Labor trafficking, labor exploitation focus of just-released report
Monday, September 26, 2016 11:00 AM

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A report on labor trafficking and exploitation in Minnesota has been released by The Advocates for Human Rights. The report, "Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace," details:

  • experiences of labor trafficked and exploited victims in Minnesota;
  • the opportunity Minnesota has to ensure that all workers, both U.S. and foreign-born, choose employment freely and are fully compensated for their work;
  • methods and signs we all can use to detect labor trafficking and exploitation;
  • ways in which current protections fall short; and
  • recommendations for change.

"The report's recommendations are designed to improve human rights conditions for workers in Minnesota and to bring Minnesota into closer compliance with international human rights standards for worker protections," said Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates.

"Labor trafficking is a problem in Minnesota," said Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates' deputy director. "It is a predatory crime in which perpetrators look for vulnerabilities they can exploit, incuding poverty, migration status, criminal history, history of abuse, lack of housing, youth, and disability. Women in particular are at high risk of labor trafficking and often experience sexual assault along with other forms of violence and mistreatment."

In fact, while The Advocates' report was in its final stages in July, a resident of Woodbury was charged with multiple counts of violating Minnesota's labor trafficking statute. Possibly the first example of a state labor trafficking prosecution, the trafficking victim---a woman form China---was found wandering the streets of Woodbury in the middle of the night. She had two black eyes, broken ribs, and a broken sternum. The woman told authorities that she was forced to work up to 18 hours a day caring for children, cooking and cleaning, and was never allowed to leave the house. She also said that the person charged in the case, Lili Huang, physically assaulted her and confiscated her passport to prevent the woman from returning to China.

Like the woman Huang victimized, those interviewed by The Advocates when conducting research for the report said that traffickers beat them, threatened physical violence, and threatened to hurt families living in the victims' home countries. Traffickers also threatened to have workers deported, either because a worker was undocumented, trafficker was holding the person's passport, or the worker's immmigration status depended on the employer. And like Huang's vicitms, more than half of those The Advocates interviewed were women in domestic servitude.

"This report provides an eye-opending look at labor trafficking and exploitation---problems that, while largely invisible to many, have a devastating effect on people right here in Minnesota," said Luz Maria Frias, Vice President of Community Impact at The Minneapolis Foundation. "By shining a light on this urgent issue and offering practical recommendations to address it, The Advocates for Human Rights is taking an important step toward creating a community in which everyone can live and work with dignity."

"Asking the Right Questions" builds on The Advocates' 2014 report, "Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today." During the research phase of that report, The Advocates uncovered disturbing accounts of workplace abuses.

Human trafficking involves both labor trafficking and sex trafficking, and The Advocates works to eliminate and mitigate both. "Asking the Right Questions" focuses on labor trafficking and exploitation. It is a companion to The Advocates' 2008 "Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota," a report that gave rise to law being enacted in Minnesota to protect sex trafficking victims.

To research and develop "Asking the Right Questions," The Advocates adapted its time-tested monitoring methodology to the problems of labor trafficking and labor exploitation. The methodology combines qualitative research methods, including interviews and participant observation, with legal research and analysis of the implementation of the laws designed to protect against these abuses. The methodology includes a comparison of the conditions in Minnesota to international human rights standards and recommendations to bring the state into closer compliance with these standards.

The Minneapolis Foundation funded the report.

>> Read the report's executive summary

>> Read the full report