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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 7, 201909:25 AM EST

Labor trafficking: It’s hiding in plain sight

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Florida ranked 5th in the nation in terms of likelihood of trafficking.

As legal practitioners, we must have a workable understanding of labor trafficking and daily law practice.

Polaris, a leading entity in the field, analyzed 40,000 calls and discovered 25 labor trafficking typologies. They ranked Florida as fifth in the nation in terms of likelihood of trafficking.

Florida industries implicated are agriculture, restaurants, health, construction, hospitality, landscaping, domestic services and recreational activities. 

Think about your clients in those industries (or if you are a judge, take a look at your docket).  List the clients/parties before reading further.

Those in the workforce operate along a continuum. At one end is an employer that complies with all laws and at the other end is labor trafficking.  Let’s sort out the workers in the middle.  

• Accidental/nonwillful violations. Think about an employer’s inadvertent nonpayment of time and a half, missing the deadline to pay workers’ compensation insurance, or miscalculating the required three-fourths guarantee under law applied to migrant farm workers.  

• Intentional violation of law. This employer decides no matter how long the worker toils, he or she will never be paid under the FLSA or enjoy OSHA protections.  

• Wage theft. This action by an employer moves further along the continuum and, while illegal, without more, does not constitute labor trafficking.

Labor trafficking occurs when a trafficker M-A-Ps his or her conduct using the M-eans of force, fraud or coercion to take an A-ction(s) (induces, recruits harbors, transports, provides or obtains) for the P-urpose of slavery.     

An understanding of “coercion” is essential to a workable understanding of this area of law.

When someone is trafficked for labor, apparent freedom to navigate the area inside a restaurant is not the same as actual freedom to walk out its door.

In 1957, sociologist Albert Biderman developed a framework applicable to human trafficking, when he looked at how interrogators could manipulate prisoners of war without the use of physical force. With mental chains, a false dichotomy exists between freedom and captivity.

According to the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, labor trafficking victims are being forced to commit serial crimes where the forced crime is the “forced labor.”

Some examples:

• Home health care: Labor trafficking victims are trained, then directed to fraudulently fill out Medicare and Medicaid applications for payment.

• Shoplifting: Labor trafficking victims are forced into big-box stores and directed by their trafficker to steal items.

• Drug cultivation: Labor trafficking victims are forced to cultivate marijuana in remote areas under a greenhouse.

• Drug sales: Labor trafficking victims are forced to sell drugs.

• Pickpockets: Labor trafficking victims, usually children, are forced to pick pockets and turn the proceeds over to their trafficker. 

Aside from beatings, the “coercive force” exerted in those cases ranged from addiction to heroin, to isolation and withholding of food.

Areas where labor trafficking might be hiding in plain sight include code enforcement violations, juvenile status offenses, delinquency, child abuse and guardianship.

If you represent businesses, take a look at the entities’ employment practices and visa compliance. Also, audit all contracts and if a client has them, subcontractors (janitors, landscaping, construction, farm labor crews employed by Florida farmers etc.). 

The recent highly publicized Robert Kraft solicitation of prostitution case highlights the difference training can make. It was a properly trained, female health department official that noticed an unusual stash of clothing, food and bedding at a massage parlor which launched that investigation. Training and education must be part of protecting clients and victims alike.         

Look back at the list of clients you made earlier. Note questions and thoughts that naturally arose for each client.

Use this opportunity, while still early in the year, to connect with each of those clients and consider an audit of their respective businesses. Aside from the goodwill you will undoubtedly foster, who knows what other work might naturally arise as a consequence.

Remember the business of doing good is good business and good branding for both you and your clients. Together, in our daily law practice we can stem the tide of labor trafficking in Northeast Florida, and in our daily purchasing habits, around the globe as well.

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