Digging into US crimes of human trafficking and forced labor
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Who is still selling slaves? Who is the perpetrator of forced labor? Evidence of forced labor and human trafficking in the US is all too clear. Still, the US is playing the “human rights card” in the international arena. It is in fact playing the trick of a thief crying “stop thief!”
First, the slave trade and forced labor have never gone away in the US.
The US has a history of hundreds of years of selling and torturing black slaves. According to statistics, the value of labor American slave owners exploited from black slaves is as high as $14 billion at current prices. Numerous facts have proven that “modern slavery” is nowadays still pervasive in the US, which is notorious for its history of the slave trade. Gross violations of human rights such as human trafficking and forced labor continue to emerge one after another.
Statistics show that as many as 100,000 people are trafficked into the US from abroad for forced labor every year. Most of them are from nearly 40 countries and regions such as India, Mexico, Vietnam, Africa and Central and South America. They are sold to sweatshops in the US working as coolies, not protected by any labor or employment laws and regulations. Research by the University of Pennsylvania found that there are at least 500,000 people in the US currently living in the conditions of modern slavery.
Moreover, it’s estimated that between 15,000 to 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery in the US every year, while a report by the University of Pennsylvania estimated the figure between 100,000 and 300,000 and one study from the Department of Health and Human Services put it between 240,000 and 325,000.
The surveys and statistics all show that the slave trade has never left the US, and that forced labor is still deeply entrenched in the US. It is a modern form of slavery that exists throughout the US.
Second, human trafficking and forced labor are rampant in the US.
In the past five years, all 50 states in the US and the District of Columbia have reported cases of forced labor and human trafficking. Up to 100,000 people are trafficked into the US for forced labor annually and half of them are sold to sweatshops or enslaved in households. In 2019 alone, the FBI reported 1,883 cases of human trafficking, over 500 more than 2018.
The serious problem of child labor is the darkness under the light of the “beacon of human rights.” According to the statistics of some US industry associations, there are approximately 500,000 child farm workers in the US. Many of these children start work as young as age 8, working 72 hours a week.
Worse, the US prison system is even more like a shelter of forced labor. The US has the world’s largest prison system, with 2.3 million people currently incarcerated. According to the Black Agenda Report, people in US prisons have no legal protection and no right to refuse the use of their labor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, inmates in a women’s prison in Chino, California, were forced to produce masks for up to 12 hours a day for just 8 cents to $1 an hour at the risk of infection. Ironically, they churned out masks by the thousands but were forbidden from wearing them.
A report by Farmworker Justice mentioned that wage theft and the implementation of debt-peonage is not uncommon on US farms. The majority of farm workers are immigrants who have defined language barriers and fears of deportation, and have no other choice but to put up with the continued exploitation from their employers.
The US National Domestic Workers Alliance identified 110 cases of modern slavery in the US in 2017. Many of the victims were migrant women and women of color. From January 2015 to December 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has documented 2,116 potential victims that had a pre-existing health concern or disability immediately prior to their trafficking situation.
In the face of a series of statistics and facts, even the US Department of Homeland Security had to admit that forced labor is prevalent in America. The victims include not only US citizens, but also foreigners from almost every region of the world, including even vulnerable groups such as women, children and the disabled.
Third, the US government is the source of human trafficking and forced labor.
The US often touts its human rights achievements and ignores the international norms of human rights. The US is the only country in the world that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US only ratified two of the eight core international treaties concerning labor rights and is one of the countries that ratified the least number of relevant treaties.
Although the US abolished slavery during its civil war, there has always been a robust demand for forced labor. Due to incomplete legislation and slack law enforcement, slave trade and forced labor are rampant. A lawyer from the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said the US government forbids employing illegal immigrants, but itself has become the biggest employer of illegal immigrants.
In front of bloody figures, the US State Department, which keeps accusing other countries of human rights violations, had to admit in its Trafficking in Persons Report that the US is a source, destination and transit country of human trafficking, and the victims included both US and foreign nationals. Even US officials participated in human trafficking and forced labor.
Fourth, scrapping the hypocritical disguise of US human rights.
For a long time, the US claimed itself to be the defender of human rights and willfully played double standards in the human rights issue. It used human rights as a tool to maintain its hegemony and accused other countries of forced labor and human trafficking.
But no matter how much the US makes a fuss and touts itself, it cannot hide the truth of its human trafficking and forced labor record. The halo of US-style human rights is scattered.
Although human trafficking and forced labor is only the tip of iceberg regarding US human rights violations, it is enough to make the world see the superpower, which willfully accuses and sanctions other countries, be the biggest contributor to the global human rights disaster.
The US is not qualified to wave the stick of human rights. Instead, it should reflect and rectify all its crimes concerning human rights such as genocide, racial discrimination, human trafficking and forced labor. If it plays double standards out of its own interests, it will only end up becoming an international laughing stock.