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Freed Trafficking Victims Organize to Challenge Big Business Abuses

According to the International Labor Organization, around the world, nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor—in other words, modern-day slavery. Many of them are exploited in agriculture, construction, domestic service and manufacturing.  As Christa Hillstrom reports in YES! Magazine, every year an estimated 15,000-17,500 persons are trafficked into the US.

Flor Molina experienced what many trafficked workers face. However, she overcame the horrific experience and is now using it to help stop what she and other anti-trafficking lobbyists refer to as “modern slavery” in the US. When Molina broke free from her indentured servitude, she connected with the nonprofit Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). Since 1998, CAST has worked with victims of forced labor, helping them to re-enter society and training them as advocates.

Survivors like Molina are well positioned to lobby for policies that help victims, curb abuses, and prosecute offenders, says Kay Buck, CAST’s executive director. For example, Molina testified before the California legislature in support of the state’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made law in 2010. That law requires companies doing business in California with more than $100 million in annual global profits to report their efforts to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. Buck says the law poses a question to both consumers and companies: What are we doing about slavery? Molina looks ahead to lobbying for a federal counterpart to the California transparency act and a new California law addressing the growing problem of exploitative labor recruitment.

In a related story, reported in The Nation by Greg Kaufman, since 1997 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has assisted the US Department of Justice in “uncovering numerous multi-state slavery operations in the southeastern US.”  Like CAST, the CIW’s anti-slavery campaign aims to liberate trafficked workers. Its efforts have freed more than 1200 workers, and the CIW played a significant role in the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which President Obama signed into law in March 2013 as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.  Many anti-trafficking organizations consider the Trafficking Victims Protection Act the US’s most important tool to combat human trafficking.

Sources:  Christa Hillstrom, “Escape from an L.A Sweatshop: How Modern-Day Slaves Become Lobbyists,” YES! Magazine, September 20, 2013, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-human-cost-of-stuff/breaking-free-from-an-american-sweatshop.

Greg Kaufman, “The Immokalee Way”, The Nation, October 18, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/blog/176727/week-poverty-immokalee-way.

Student Researcher: Carla Cardenas (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Sonoma State University)