January 27, 2020 Issue: January 2020

Time to Take Action Against Human Trafficking

by Mary K O’Melveny, Washington DC Union & Employee Co-Chair

It has been ten years since President Barack Obama first designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Sadly, despite growing awareness of the world-wide scourge of trafficking humans for labor and other exploitative acts, human trafficking still affects millions of people in the US and around the globe and is the second largest criminal industry after the drug trade. (Despite the UN General Assembly’s adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibiting involuntary “slavery or servitude…in all their forms,” slavery is even still legal in a few countries!). The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 40 million men, women and children are trafficking victims.

Trafficking victims may be found in many industries and job sites, including construction, agriculture, nail and massage parlors, hotels, restaurants, health care and domestic work. Victims suffer great psychological and physical abuse among other problems. Their need for assistance, treatment and economic support is enormous.

In 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which increased law enforcement tools to strengthen prosecutorial options and penalties and established important baseline standards for punishment of traffickers. The TVPA provides important remedies for trafficking victims and opportunities for labor and employment lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance to help them obtain damages and other important relief.

Although human trafficking continues to plague every country, the good news is that there are growing resources available to provide help to victims and to increase community awareness of the problem. Section members have many opportunities to reach out to assist in the fight against forced labor and other forms of trafficking. Among the groups that head up the fight to end modern-day slavery are The Polaris Project which operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), provides services to victims and works on long-term strategies to provide effective legal and legislative remedies. Lawyers can provide pro bono help to trafficking victims. The Human Trafficking Legal Center, located in Washington DC, provides key assistance to lawyers and law firms who want to do such work.

Many states also have organizations that provide pro bono opportunities or other ways to contribute to the work needed to oppose trafficking. In Colorado, for example, ALIGHT offers many ways to provide pro bono support to trafficking victims with complex legal needs. New York has one of the most comprehensive human trafficking laws in the nation. Its Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking works on training outreach and human trafficking education. New York’s Human Trafficking Program provides case management and referral services to trafficking victims. The New York City Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project advocates for trafficking victims and provides legal help for those facing trafficking-related prosecution or adverse immigration actions. In California, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) helps victims through legal, social and advocacy services, as well as raises awareness of trafficking and advocates for progressive legislation and public policy responses. 

Other groups that provide help to trafficked workers and other victims of human rights abuses are:  Justice At Work; National Employment Law Project (NELP); Free The Slaves.

The main lesson for all of us during this month, and the months to come, is that we can make a major difference in the lives of trafficking victims in any of many ways. No amount of help is too small! For more information about human trafficking issues, check out the webpage of the Section’s Immigration and Human Trafficking Committee.