Protecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

FeaturedProtecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

This past August 8th, several black SUVs sped into Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, blocking the entrances. As the car doors opened, dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents emerged and surrounded the offices. It was the culmination of a 15-month long investigation and they’d come to arrest people suspected of a criminal conspiracy to hire and exploit undocumented immigrants.

That day, similar scenes played out at other farms and businesses across Nebraska, Minnesota, and Nevada. In total, 17 business owners were arrested. According to the ICE press release, the alleged ring of conspirators knowingly hired immigrants who did not have documentation and then exploited those individuals through coercive measures. More specifically, the owners allegedly forced these workers to cash their paychecks for a fee at illegal businesses, deducted taxes from their paychecks without actually paying those taxes to the government, and coerced the workers into staying silent through use of force and threats of arrest and deportation.

The ICE press release never mentions it, but federal law has a name for this crime: human trafficking.

On its face, it seems like this operation should have given The Advocates and other organizations working to end human trafficking a cause to celebrate. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That’s because these 17 arrests were accompanied by another 133; in addition to arresting the perpetrators of the crime, ICE also arrested the victims.

In other words, even though the people in question had suffered this abuse, and even though there are federal laws in place specifically designed to protect victims of human trafficking, ICE continued to pursue the Trump administration’s tenacious mission to deport all “illegal aliens.” Instead of help and compassion, these victims were met with detention and the looming threat of deportation, and were painted as identity thieves.

From a humanitarian perspective, this type of treatment is certainly shocking and clearly the wrong move. The fact that these are victims of human trafficking, however, makes this heartless response not only cruel but also counterproductive.

While they were still working on the farms, these individuals were kept from leaving or reporting the exploitative situation by the owners’ threats: do anything to stop us and you’ll be arrested and deported. When they arrested these victims and charged them with deportability, ICE followed through on the perpetrators’ threats.

As highlighted in The Advocates’ soon-to-be-released protocol on effective responses to labor trafficking, this type of response sends a message to other trafficking victims that the law is not there to protect them, but rather stands on the side of the traffickers. Ultimately, instead of feeling empowered to speak out, other victims will be even more likely to keep silent and continue to live, work, and suffer in fear. This end result is precisely why the federal protections for trafficking victims were created and why following them is essential to ending this modern form of slavery.

Put another way, rather than helping to end human trafficking in the United States, ICE’s actions ensure that it will continue. One thing is clear: if our country wants to deal effectively with this severe human rights violation, ICE needs to drastically change its approach.

By Rachel Adler, Research, Education, and Advocacy Intern at The Advocates for Human Rights

Sources:

Beck, Margery A. “Immigration Raids in Nebraska, Minnesota Target Businesses.” Star Tribune. August 9, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/immigration-raids-in-nebraska-minnesota-target-businesses/490389421/

Boldan, Kelly. “ICE Raids Target Businesses in Minnesota, Nebraska, Appleton Facility is among Christensen Farm Locations Raided.” West Central Tribune. August 8, 2018. http://wctrib.com/business/agriculture/4483330-ice-raids-target-businesses-minnesota-nebraska-appleton-facility-among

Planos, Josh. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota, Nevada.” KETV. August 9, 2018. https://www.ketv.com/article/immigration-raid-underway-in-oneill/22676364

Smith, Mary Lynn and Stephen Montemayor. “Big Minnesota Pork Producer ‘Surprised’ by Immigration Raids.” Star Tribune. August 10, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/more-than-130-arrested-in-immigration-raids-in-minnesota-nebraska/490470901/

United States, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada.” August 8, 2018. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-search-warrants-nebraska-minnesota-and-nevada

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Trafficking of Rohingya Refugees

Rohingya refugees
Photo credit: Getty Images

In July, the New York Times reported that a prominent, former Thai general had been  sentenced to nearly three decades in prison for conspiring in the trafficking of Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya, a minority, stateless ethnic group fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Dozens more, including police officers and smugglers, were also convicted of participating in the human trafficking ring after the discovery of several mass graves thought to contain the bodies of migrants were discovered in 2015 near the Thai-Malaysia border, along a route often used to smuggle Rohingya out of Myanmar. The crackdown on trafficking has increased since the mass graves were discovered; this is only one of many Thai authorities that has been caught or suspected of colluding in the trafficking of refugees.

The Rohingya are an Muslim, ethnic minority residing in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Increasing abuse, persecution, and displacement has forced the Rohingya to flee to neighboring countries; according to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 168,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled the country in the last five years. Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, the 1982 Citizenship Law has consistently been used by the government to deny citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, despite recent calls by human rights organizations and the UN General Assembly in 2014 to amend the legislation. The Citizenship Law effectively renders the Rohingya stateless, and it is this stateless status which makes it particularly difficult for the Rohingya to obtain legal status in any other country.

Thailand has consistently been a common destination and transit country for many refugees. However, the Thai government does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees, and therefore does not offer them protection. In fact, Thailand has not yet ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, is not a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and has no formal national refugee legislation, so all migrants, whether refugee or non-refugee, are processed under the Immigration Act of 1979.

Thus, the Thai government treats asylum seekers as illegal migrants, and arrests and deports them as such. Thai law allows for police to arrest, detain, and fine people who have migrated illegally, even if they are children; because many refugees, particularly the stateless Rohingya, are not able to obtain legal status in Thailand under the Immigration Act of 1979, they are very likely to be subject to abuse by employers and human traffickers or to indefinite detention, abuse, and refoulement by Thai officials, even when the U.N. has recognized their refugee status. In fact, since 2004, the Thai government has not even allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct screenings on Rohingya to determine refugee status.

This lack of protection, from either Thailand, other ASEAN countries, or the UNHCR within Thailand, puts the Rohingya at great risk of trafficking. The struggles of the Rohingya were put under the spotlight in May of 2015, when images emerged of overcrowded boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar, adrift in the Andaman Sea between Thailand and Malaysia. The migrants had paid smugglers to take them out of Bangladesh and Myanmar, but due to Thailand’s recent crackdown on trafficking, these smugglers soon abandoned the migrants. When their boats neared the shores of Malaysia and Thailand, the refugees were turned away and pushed farther out to sea by authorities, where many perished due to exposure and lack of food and water. Survivors reported suffering horrific abuse at the hands of the traffickers, who beat, killed, and deprived migrants in order to force their families to pay a ransom.

Had they managed to arrive in Thailand, they likely wouldn’t have endured a fate much better. Once they reach the mainland, many migrants are sold by their smugglers to other traffickers, who then hold them in camps along the borders of Thailand. Here, they endure equally gruesome conditions and beatings; in May 2015, Rohingya in camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border were found being held in extremely overcrowded spaces, and even in pens and cages.

Even upon rescue from these camps, migrants are not safe. Because of Thailand’s treatment of refugees as illegal immigrants, refugees found in camps are generally arrested and placed in indefinite detention. Within immigration detention centers, migrants are subject to further abuse by Thai police and officials, who, like traffickers, often beat and harass detainees in order to obtain payment, and sometimes force them to return to Myanmar, an act which violates the international principle of non-refoulement. Further, detention officers sometimes even sell refugees back to the trafficking rings they were rescued from.

Thailand has taken steps in the last decade to combat human trafficking in the country, such as passing a law in 2008 which criminalizes trafficking and details punishments for perpetrators, including imprisonment and fines, and a more recent law in 2016 which expedites the judicial process for trafficking cases. Nonetheless, problems such as inadequate identification procedures for victims of trafficking, low rates of trafficking prosecutions and convictions, and most importantly, Thai official complicity in trafficking persist.

In its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Thailand received eight recommendations from other state delegations relating to refugees and asylum seekers. It rejected almost all of these recommendations, including those which requested that Thailand offer legal status to refugees and asylum-seekers and that it put an end to arbitrary detention and refoulement of refugees, especially children. In its report, Thailand noted that despite not being party to the international treaties regarding refugees, the country has a “humanitarian tradition” of providing assistance to displaced people. Despite Thailand’s very recent push to prosecute traffickers, the state’s clear involvement in the trafficking and abuse of such displaced people and its refusal to conduct refugee screenings on them would suggest otherwise.

In order to truly demonstrate its commitment and “humanitarian tradition” of helping refugees, Thailand must immediately halt the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, ratify international treaties relating to refugees and proceed with the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the egregious human rights violations of migrants.

By: Abby Walker, a junior at Carleton College (class of 2019) in Northfield, Minnesota studying sociology, anthropology, and education. She was a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two photo options below:

 

Thailand Immigration Police bring Rohingya refugees to a port outside Ranong City (October 30, 2013)

 

Two Rohingya refugees in a Thai immigration detention center in Kanchanaburi province (July 10, 2013)

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Ensuring Justice: Enforcement of Labor Trafficking and Labor Exploitation Laws

Multiple ChoicesAfter being recruited for a high-paying job in the United States, Hanh left her impoverished community in Vietnam, departing on her quest for the American Dream. Hanh paid a large fee to travel from Vietnam to Minnesota under the assumption that her employer had made all the necessary immigration arrangements. However, this person who had promised Hanh a new life was a labor trafficker who threatened harm to Hanh and her family if she did not submit to servitude. Living in fear of violence and watching her debt swell, Hanh was not only imprisoned by her circumstance but also by her inability to communicate and seek help. Eventually, law enforcement learned of her situation and successfully convicted her trafficker of forced labor, freeing seven others like her in the process.

These stories of labor trafficking are not isolated—in fact, The Advocates has heard reports of more than thirty-six labor trafficking victims in Minnesota. Still, there have only been a handful of criminal convictions under federal law and only two under the Minnesota labor trafficking statute. This disparity suggests that the enforcement of criminal labor and trafficking laws is inadequate and offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes. The Advocates for Human Rights recently published a report, “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace,” that examines how labor trafficking and exploitation continue to exist in Minnesota.

In this report, The Advocates assesses the possible barriers to prosecution despite the available legal framework. First, The Advocates found that the requirement that victims cooperate in a case in order to receive benefits such as immigration status, originally intended to strengthen prosecution efforts, has instead hampered enforcement. By providing a benefit to a witness, the government risks undermining the witness’ credibility in a criminal case. Secondly, Minnesota’s state criminal labor trafficking law is largely underutilized. Though the state’s broadened definition of a “trafficker” and a “beneficiary” could increase a victim’s access to justice, its lack of use leaves the possibility untested.

The enforcement of labor laws is another vital component to protect victims of labor trafficking. Unfortunately, both federal and state labor laws contain major exemptions that allow abusive employers, including traffickers, to exploit their workers. This is precisely what happened to Jorge. When recruited to come to Minnesota to work in roofing, Jorge trusted his recruiter to help him find jobs and to negotiate his wages since he did not speak English and lacked legal immigration status. This subcontractor, who had Jorge sign over every paycheck, gave Jorge cash back—but only after robbing him of most of the money he had worked for. Based on the Advocates’ research, there are multiple factors which create an environment within which this kind of abuse has become far too common.

First, exemptions to wage and hour laws in agriculture and domestic service remove a level of government oversight which creates trafficking opportunities. In Jorge’s case, his trafficker stole most of his paycheck, but because the cash he gave Jorge met the minimum wage, Jorge could not press charges under wage and hour legislation. Further, he could not make a claim against the larger company that built the homes he worked on because workers must prove the contracting relationship is illegitimate in order to hold the contracting company liable. Accountability is often impossible in the complex web of subcontractors and independent contractors. This, coupled with confusing standards between different federal agencies and state policies, leaves workers ill-equipped to advocate for themselves. Moreover, the lack of coordination on labor exploitation hampers the complaint process. After being referred from one agency to the next, Jorge was forced to cut his losses, find a new job, and sacrifice his pursuit of justice.

This report by The Advocates for Human Rights has highlighted a number of crucial areas of improvement in enforcing criminal labor trafficking and labor exploitation laws. There is a need for training and resources for our law enforcement, community organizations, and other agencies to effectively identify and help protect victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. The following are priority recommendations to help bolster Minnesota’s efforts to improve its fight against trafficking:

· Policy makers need to provide resources for training law enforcement and prosecutors on Minnesota’s labor trafficking laws, including investigative techniques and protections for victims.

· Policy makers need to examine how to provide an accessible system that makes sure workers can recover lost wages in a timely manner and at little to no cost, especially with smaller claims.

To learn more about the recommendations to improve enforcement of labor trafficking and exploitation laws visit The Advocates’ website at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/labor_trafficking_report.

By Hannah Mangen , a student at The University of Minnesota in Saint Paul (class of 2018) with a major in Global Studies and Communication. She currently works as a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the fourth in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include: 

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Am I a Victim of Labor Trafficking and Exploitation?

Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

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Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

labor trafficking and other forms of victimizationKeeping victims safe should be of utmost priority when tackling labor exploitation and trafficking cases. However, our current system lacks some of the fundamental tools to do just that. Those that survive exploitation and trafficking need assistance in addressing their short term and long term needs. Not only must their trauma be addressed but also the aspects of their lives that left them vulnerable to the trafficking or exploitation in the first place.

Survivors of labor trafficking have endured significant abuse. Their trafficker has complete control over their lives. The trafficker arbitrarily decides when or even if victims get paid and how much. They provide inadequate housing and seize control of any identification documents leaving victims afraid to call for help in fear of arrest or deportation. An employer having so much control over their lives deprives victims of their autonomy and sense of self. This, coupled with physical, sexual, and mental abuse, results in a long road to recovery for those that manage to escape. They need assistance in rebuilding their lives. International standards for trafficking victim protection and assistance take all of this into consideration.

Unfortunately, protection standards within the U.S are not nearly as comprehensive as international standards. There are federal and state laws offering protection from deportation, work authorization, federal public assistance, and case management assistance. However, they are hard to obtain and put an undue burden on the victim. Undermining the victim protection that they claim to provide, the laws require the cooperation of victims in criminal investigations against traffickers in order for them to receive assistance. Foreign nationals and U.S. citizens face additional challenges and neither is fully protected.

U.S. trafficking law benefits focus largely on foreign national victims. Domestic victims are often left with little resources to address their vulnerability and protect them from future trafficking. For instance, people that are barred from public assistance for any reason are unable to qualify for the benefits that so many victims require. This makes them easy targets for abusive employers and makes recovery even more difficult. Our current system offers no waiver ensuring that all U.S. citizen victims of trafficking can get assistance.

Foreign national victims may have designated protections but face challenges in accessing them. Victims must first meet an administrative definition of “trafficked” to be certified as “a victim of severe form of human trafficking. “ Once this criterion is met victims must then follow a multi-stage process to receive full benefits and protection. Federal law, in opposition to international law, requires adult victims to participate with the investigation and prosecution of the crime to receive certification and receive protections. One of the most important forms of protection for foreign national victims is protection from deportation. There are three different ways for victims to avoid deportation yet all three require that victims participate in the investigation of their trafficker. Only after they have agreed to this can they file for protection from deportation. Only children or victims with severe trauma are exempt.

In addition to linking protection with investigation cooperation, there are other shortcomings in our system. A lack of funding has left service providers without capacity to help all trafficking victims. Victims especially need a safe place to stay, but there is a general lack of housing, especially for male victims. If victims cannot find a safe place to stay in the midst of escaping their abusive employer they often find themselves with no other option than to return.

Victims of labor exploitation do not even have access to the limited protections available to victims of labor trafficking. Being recognized as a labor exploitation victim provides no financial supports, no access to benefits, and no protection from deportation, no matter how much the victim may need those things to rebuild their lives and help bring an abusive employer to justice.

The Advocates makes several recommendations in “Asking the Right Questions” to help ensure that victims of labor trafficking and exploitation receive the assistance they require.

· Policy makers should develop a statewide network so all victims of human trafficking, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, have access to services, including both existing services and new funding.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to remove the requirement that victims cooperate with law enforcement to receive services and protection from deportation.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to ensure that domestic trafficking victims who may be otherwise ineligible for public benefits can receive certification, case management, cash assistance, and other help currently available to foreign national victims.

To read all of the recommendations on better protecting victims of labor trafficking and exploitation visit “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace.”

 

By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the third in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include: 

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Am I a Victim of Labor Trafficking and Exploitation?

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Am I a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation?

BarriersAs an immigrant recruited to work in the United States, Miguel left his home and family for the better life that was promised to him. He was given a temporary visa by his employer, but nothing else was as he expected. His employer refused to pay him as promised and threatened him when he complained. Miguel had become a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation. However, instead of being promptly identified and given the help he needed, it took Miguel many tries before someone recognized him as a trafficking victim. This experience is not unique to Miguel. The Advocates for Human Rights recently released a report on human trafficking and exploitation titled, “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace,” that examines how failing to identify trafficking and exploitation leaves victims unprotected.

Workers that are victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation are faced with many challenging barriers. One of the biggest problems is that much of the system for enforcing laws against trafficking and exploitation relies on workers stepping up and complaining of a workplace violation. However, the worker may not know that they are a victim of labor trafficking or exploitation and that they can get help. Miguel, like many others, knew that what was happening to him was not right, but he did not know that it was considered trafficking, a crime.

Workers also fear retaliation. Making the decision to complain to one’s boss or a government agency may put a worker at risk of losing their job, having their hours cut, receiving less desirable shifts, or possible deportation. Workers who are undocumented face the fear that they may be deported if they bring themselves to the attention of the authorities. Even those that are legal immigrants fear a complaint could hurt their immigration status. One worker was so fearful of being discovered as an illegal immigrant that he fled Minnesota and abandoned his case.

Given that workers may not be able to identify themselves as victims, identifying labor trafficking and exploitation falls on community organizations and government agencies. However, they too face barriers that make it difficult to identify workers as victims of labor trafficking and exploitation. One such barrier is that government agencies do not all have the necessary protocols in place to identify victims and so do not consistently recognize labor trafficked and exploited workers. In Miguel’s case, he was given an opportunity to complain when immigration officers started an investigation, but because they used the trafficker (his boss) as the interpreter he was unable to voice any of his concerns. A protocol requiring the use of independent interpreters might have prevented this.

These challenges also exist for community organizations. They may not have sufficient knowledge of trafficking to identify it correctly or an established screening process to uncover it. Organizations also face challenges in building trust with potential victims. Victims may have a trusting relationship with one employee, but not the overall institution. If that employee leaves, their connection with the victim may also be lost.

What can be done to improve identification? The Advocates for Human Rights created the following priority recommendations in order to improve the identification of labor trafficked and exploited workers:

· Provide training on labor trafficking and exploitation to government agencies and community organizations.

· Fund a statewide public awareness campaign on labor trafficking and exploitation in Minnesota.

· Create a self-assessment tool for workers to identify whether they are a victim or at risk.

· Establish a multi-agency working group to make it easier for workers to register complaints using a clear, direct, language-accessible system.

· Implement screening protocols for all federal immigration enforcement to consistently identify labor trafficked and exploited victims.

To read all of the recommendations to better identify labor trafficking and exploitation visit http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/labor_trafficking_report.

By Biftu Bussa, a student at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota (class of 2018) with a major in Public Health and Psychology. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the second in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include:

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

 

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Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

shadow dudeMost people are troubled by the thought of workers being underpaid, unsafe, or otherwise exploited, but many remain silent, discouraged by the seeming impunity for exploitive employers.

Because labor exploitation is so widespread, traffickers often operate undetected, assumed to be merely another bad employer. Trafficking is viewed as a distant crime, something that occurs in a different city, state, or country than our own. When we look closer, though, we can see that trafficking and exploitation happen here.

The Advocates recently released a report titled “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace.” The report examines the experiences of labor trafficked and exploited victims in Minnesota, the opportunity Minnesota has to ensure that all workers, both U.S. and foreign-born, choose employment freely and are fully compensated for their work; methods and signs we all can use to detect labor trafficking and exploitation; ways in which current protections fall short; and recommendations for change.

Labor trafficking occurs when a recruiter, employer, or supervisor compels or tricks a worker into providing involuntary labor. Labor exploitation occurs when employers profit from the illegal treatment of their workers but do not exert the level of control that characterizes labor trafficking. Though both are illegal, current laws and policies do not sufficiently protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Labor trafficking cannot be addressed without examining labor exploitation. Labor trafficking almost always involves labor exploitation – not paying workers, forcing them to work long hours, or exposing them to unsafe conditions. These two human rights violations also occur at
high rates in the same industries.

Industries that have high rates of sub-contracting and independent contracting such as construction, have high rates of both exploitation and trafficking. Other industries where workers are isolated or highly mobile, such as domestic service, agriculture, and restaurants, have a disproportionate amount of trafficking and exploitation as well.

Traffickers and abusive employers are master manipulators that exploit the shortcomings of our worker protection system. One gap is that the linked crimes of trafficking and exploitation are handled by different systems. Labor trafficking is a crime investigated by police and FBI and prosecuted in criminal court. Labor exploitation, on the other hand, is typically handled by administrative agencies as a civil offense. To the detriment of the victims, these two systems do not always coordinate efforts, allowing perpetrators to escape prosecution.

It is easy for perpetrators to manipulate the law because they select victims that are the most vulnerable and least likely to complain. Perpetrators choose their victims from vulnerable populations such as women, those with criminal histories, youth, people with disabilities, and immigrants. Traffickers in particular then try to add to the victims’ vulnerability. Victims may be forced to participate in criminal activities, making it difficult to seek help from the police. In many situations, sexual violence is also used as a means of control.

Traffickers also use isolation as a tool against their workers by moving them to different locations, requiring they live on site, or confiscating identification such as visas to limit mobility. The trafficker creates a system of fear and dependence that makes it difficult for victims to break away.

No one should have to live in fear or without being paid what they’ve earned. Those among us that are trafficked and exploited are having their fundamental human rights violated. It is our job as a community to fight back and advocate on behalf of those that fall victim to abusive employers. In the coming weeks, The Advocates will shed light on this issue and what Minnesotans can do to protect the rights of all workers.

By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the first in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional posts in the series include:

Am I a victim of labor trafficking and exploitation?

Rebuilding Lives and Protection Victims of Human Trafficking

 

Modern-day slavery in the Persian Gulf

Trafficking word cloudThe Advocates for Human Rights receives a barrage of emails from across the globe, people who are looking for information and assistance in a wide variety of human rights issues. The requests for assistance are a window into the current human rights problems in the world, which oftentimes are virtually unknown outside of the country or region.

One example that I find especially heartbreaking is the modern day slavery that is happening in the Persian Gulf region. Through the Kafala system, a policy of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), citizens or companies sponsor “foreign” workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. This means that an individual’s right to work and legal presence in a host country is dependent on his or her employer, rendering the person to exploitation. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Every year, thousands migrate from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf region to seek employment. With some differences, the story of these workers repeats itself; people from the poorest parts of the world are toiling in sweat and blood in the shadow of unimaginable wealth. In such conditions, however, the international community enjoys investment incentives, luxurious shopping centers, and dreams of the World Cup (many of its facilities are built by migrant workers).

They Are Entrapped

The plight of migrant workers begins in their home countries when they are deceived in the recruitment process and promised liveable wages. Migrant workers usually take out large loans to pay the fees of local recruitment agencies that arrange their work contract and travel documents. While migrant workers are heavily dependant on their salaries to survive, they should devote most of their wages to service loans.

As a common practice, sponsors confiscate workers’ passports. Even when workers have their passports, they still must have their sponsor’s permission to leave the country. Migrant workers have limited options; continue in their jobs, or quit the job and work illegally for different employers. They have reported a culture of fear and intimidation in which there is no access to justice, especially for those who work illegally.

They Are Segregated and Exploited Slaves

Most migrant workers live in substandard conditions in remote areas. In Qatar, for instance, the segregation has been built through legislation by the Central Municipal Council (CMC). With the establishment of “family zones,” migrant workers have been banned from living in Doha; and have been prevented from enjoying public areas, such as shopping centers on certain days. Such laws legitimize negative stereotypes about migrant workers and have the effect of further entrenching segregation.

The World Cup Nightmare

In response to reports of worker’s deaths (in the World Cup facilities), the Qatari government commissioned a law firm to investigate. The recommendations of this investigation about legal reforms, however, have never been followed seriously. While the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants called for Qatar to repeal its Kafala system, it seems that the Qatari government intends to rename the system without removing its exploitative provisions. According to the latest report of the International Laborer Organization (“ILO”), Qatar has failed to observe the international standards regarding migrant workers. Two years prior, the ILO asked Qatar to take meaningful actions, otherwise a United Nations inquiry would be launched in 2017 that will make possible imposing international sanctions. As Human Rights Watch reported, Qatar has promised little and has delivered far less. By continuing in this way, the International Trade Union Confederation reports that, about 4,000 workers will die before the World Cup 2022.

Any will for change?

Considering the lack of protective measures for migrant workers, host countries must make fundamental changes in the Kafala system. In addition, they have enough financial means to ensure safe work, standard living conditions, and decent wages for foreign laborers. Simultaneously, migrant workers’ countries of origin have the duty to monitor the conditions of their citizens and provide them with proper consular support. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that international companies will acknowledge their responsibility for the miserable conditions of their migrant laborers. For this reason, human rights activists across the Persian Gulf region and beyond must shed light on the lives of migrant workers to end modern-day slavery as a common practice among nations in the region.

By Mehrnoosh Karimi Andu, a third-year J.D. student (class of 2017) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.