One of the biggest problems in policing labor trafficking is the jurisdictional gap between criminal and civil agencies. Because neither is fully authorized to do the job, neither is proactively investigating or effectively busting this crime. Put another way, federal and local law enforcement do not typically investigate civil labor violations, because such violations are supposed to be investigated by the Department of Labor, but the DOL lacks the authority to open criminal cases, so it too falls short.
With the foregoing in mind, the University of Maryland Support, Advocacy, Freedom, and Empowerment (SAFE) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors (https://www.umdsafecenter.org/) offers the following ideas for consideration by all of DOL, not just WHD (but, this seemed the best place to post this list of ideas):
• Conduct an internal survey of all the civil labor laws DOL enforces with the purpose of identifying when and where the agency's efforts to combat human trafficking can be augmented. (This is, perhaps, one of the aims of this online dialogue, but please recognize that not all stakeholders outside of DOL understand what the current landscape of DOL's C-TIP efforts looks like. It would be great to continue this dialogue in 2021 with a bit more information from DOL at the outset regarding its current C-TIP activities.)
• Rigorously investigate worker claims that are known red flags to potential labor trafficking, including but not limited to: claims of zero pay or other substantial wage and hour violations (even if single-victim); violations with respect to illegal fees or deductions from wages being charged to the worker, and/or fees/ costs not being reimbursed to the worker as promised and required by law; irregular payment of wages (e.g., workers do not get paid directly/ do not have access to their earnings); and, cases where workers claim strong retaliation by employers for raising any type of labor issue.
• Have DOL inspectors and Federal and local criminal law enforcement officers engage in cross-training exercises and joint operations.
• Utilize and analyze DOL's vast data collection related to labor law violations, temporary work visa applications, and local incident reports to better inform proactive investigations.
• Address loopholes and increase oversight of all guest worker programs/nonimmigrant visa categories reviewed by DOL, or that DOL plays a role in issuing. Establish clear rules of joint and severable liability for violations by all employer-side actors (e.g., labor brokers, recruiters, visa sponsors and end employers).
• Strengthen laws and policies regulating labor agencies at the state and federal level so employers have more resources available to them for ensuring that their labor supply chains (i.e., methods of recruitment) are trafficking-free.
• Put forward policy proposals to make the U.S. employer-sponsored visa programs more competitive and on par with the 21st century international job market by no longer linking employment-based visas to specific employers, rather to industries where DOL's data shows labor shortages exist and applicants can show they have the requisite skill set. (As has been said by many other commentators, issuing visas that are not tied exclusively to specific workplaces will greatly reduce opportunities for exploitation and vulnerability to labor trafficking.)
• Develop a meaningful regulatory framework for independent contractors, freelancers, "gig-economy" workers, domestic workers and all other workers falling outside the traditional workforce and current regulatory framework.
• Invest in specialized service providers, outreach, emergency and long-term housing (especially for labor trafficking survivors who need to urgently and discretely leave housing controlled by traffickers), civil and criminal litigation for restitution and stolen wages, and vocational training for survivors.
Fighting labor trafficking will be a challenge going forward. But with greater understanding of its inner workings and with concerted effort, survivors can be better supported, offenders held accountable, and loopholes closed to shut down the routes that feed a modern system of slavery.