Human Trafficking in Massachusetts: Not Yet A Crime.

Modern-day slavery is a pervasive issue that involves fundamental human rights violations with dynamics of economic plight and devastating effects on oppressed victims. The famously progressive state of Massachusetts has truly led other states in equality and non-discrimination issues, especially with respect to same sex marriage. But when it comes to protecting human trafficking victims by subjecting the perpetrators to criminal punishment, Massachusetts falls far behind, as one of only 5 states in the country that doesn’t yet have a law criminalizing human trafficking.

A bill to make human trafficking into a state crime, supported by Attorney General Coakley and other law enforcement officials, was introduced in late January.  The United Nations estimates $32 billion in international criminal profits are derived each year from the sheer exploitation of human trafficking. Coakley recognized that “[i]t has been under the radar, but it’s time to shine a spotlight on this crime.” Amicus will continue to follow the developments in Massachusetts’ long-overdue fight against modern day slavery.

For more information on the dynamics of human trafficking both internationally and in the United States, see or read Siddharth Kara’s Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

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  • We have learned much in the last 2 years about how ethnic Uyghurs have come to be in some Chinese factories; harsh and coercive measures are reported by 30% of them forced to go (Uyghur rights advocates believe this figure could be higher). Many thousands who went voluntarily tell heart-rending stories of being cheated and abused. Since U.S.-based brands (some from Massachusetts)are the mainstay buyers for many of these enterprises, why are Americans not better informed about this? Ameliorative measures could have been applied, since dozens of these global brands tout “corporate social responsibility” and publish extensive (if not particularly informative) “factory social audits” on their corporate websites. The deterioration of employee relations in a Korean-run sneaker factory in Vietnam may give some clues. Workers there reported that management employed a dozen translators when the factory first opened in the mid-1990s. Essentially, they reduced friction between the foremen (and women) and the workers. Over the years, the translators departed one by one, until they were all gone. Now, tension is rife on the production lines.

    Many of the problems faced by Uyghurs are of a similar nature. Young Uyghur women report that they are often forced to work a second shift, until 2 or 3 in the morning, in violation of their contracts. Some have reported occasionally being forced to work 24 hours straight, with no overtime premium paid (as required by Chinese labor law). They also report being given little food to eat, a dangerous living environment and unsanitary working conditions that have caused kidney ailments, skin diseases and other health

    The approach of the U.S. State Department should be twofold: First, it would be simple for the State Department to organize a briefing on “trafficking” for all corporations that know or suspect that similarly vulnerable workers may be producing products anywhere along their supply chains. (Trafficking – also termed “bonded labor”- occurs when workers are duped or sent against their will into factory jobs.) Those businesses whose executives do not attend—but are reliably implicated—should go to the top of the “watch list.” Second, State must begin building a no-nonsense survey of current practices.

  • Jeff, Thank you so much for you extremely insightful comments, especially concerning the plight of the Uyghur populations. I know it’s a group that doesn’t get enough attention even among abolitionists, as not much is known about the group.

    I agree that more needs to be done about trafficking in the United States, but your suggestions to me seem to merely address the symptoms for a larger cancer, instead of attacking the actual disease itself. By focusing enforcement efforts on corporations, there has already been coercion, oppression and a market transaction to get the slave to this end-point. The commidification of human life has already occurred several step earlier, with corporations serving as one final end point. There are also individual slave-owners who serve as the end-point in exploiting trafficking victims (for some interesting examples, I recommend Ben Skinner’s book, “A Crime So Monstrous.”

    I think law enforcement is the crucial key step. Which I was so appalled by the lack of trafficking law in Mass. We need to ramp up law enforcement funding and training to halt the exploitation BEFORE international borders are crossed. While I agree that state department briefings can be an integral part of this, there is still much confusion as to key terms of the definition of trafficking: what does coercion really mean? By first concentrating efforts to turn coercion into a crime–but crucially without punishing the victims of human trafficking– then other aspects of the endeavor to end human trafficking can more easily fall into place.