The Modern Slave Market of Labor Human Trafficking


Written by: Maite Sastre

Thirteen-year-old Natalia lived her whole life in a village in Ghana with her parents and siblings. One day, an opportunity arose for her to move in with family friends in the U.S., where she would receive an education. The offer seemed like an answer to their prayers, as they were having trouble paying for her school fees. 

Tragically, this was the furthest thing from a dream come true and as soon as the teen was alone in a new country, the abuse began. Natalia spent the next six years in domestic servitude, until she was finally able to escape with the help of a neighbor. 

Natalia’s story is one of the many horror stories that come from labor trafficking. In fact, human trafficking can take various forms and it usually targets people who live in impoverished countries or living through poverty in general. In 2016 alone, The International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation estimated that there were 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor by both private and state-run actors. They also pointed out in their report that the labor acquired from these victims often resulted in products and services provided through legitimate channels, rather than the common perception that they are limited to illegal black markets. 

For a situation to be considered forced labor, three elements need to be present. First, there needs to be recruitment and transportation of the person who is to perform the labor. Then, pernicious means by which the trafficker recruits the victim or keeps them in the undesirable situation – this can be through force, fraud or coercion. Coercion can come in an array of forms, such as debt manipulation, taking away identity documents (like a passport), forced addiction, and pay withholding. Lastly, the purpose of the trafficking must be to exploit the victim’s labor or services. 

Domestic servitude and agricultural forced work are two common types of labor trafficking. Recently (March 2024), the EU took action in order to combat the latter, passing a regulation with the purpose of banning products linked to forced labor from their trading bloc, which is expected to affect many markets outside and inside member countries. Items that could possibly be banned include Brazilian beef, Ivorian cocoa, Indonesian palm oil, Chinese fish, Spanish strawberries, and other industries in Italy and Spain. 

Polaris, an American organization combating human trafficking, lists a few signs that should sound alarm bells when it comes to recognizing labor trafficking: if an individual owes money to an employer and/or is not being paid; if an individual does not have control of his or her passport or any other identity document; if an individual is kept off the grid and has very little interaction with the outside world; if an individual appears to be monitored when interacting with others; if an individual is living under dangerous and/or inhumane conditions provided by the employer; and if an individual is working under dangerous and/or inhumane conditions. 

The Human Trafficking Hotline suggests that two ways to combat this type of human traffic in one’s private life is by being aware of where the products one consumes the most come from and supporting fair salaries. Looking into even one of the thousands of companies a person buys goods and services from can seem like a daunting task in today’s information-filled world, but any effort towards the fight against modern slavery is a worthy effort. 

Another way to help victims is by pushing for more attention from the justice system. Oftentimes, victims of labor trafficking choose not to file police reports against their traffickers after they are freed for fear of retaliation and/or deportation. In the book “The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today,” authors Bales and Soodalter point out that cases involving victims of labor trafficking who do not receive proper treatment from justice systems are “not unusual, and they all raise the question of why slaveholders are consistently given prison sentences far shorter than the time they held their victims in slavery.” 


Works cited: 

Bales, Kevin, and Ron Soodalter. The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2009.  

“Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.” International Labour Office, The International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation with partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2017,  

“Labor Trafficking Stories.” United Way, 2015,  

“Labor Trafficking.” National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2017,,labor%2C%20and%20involuntary%20child%20labor.  

Manzanaro, Sofia Sanchez. “New EU Forced Labour Rules to Crack down on Exploitation in Agri-Food Supply Chains.” Euractiv, 5 Mar. 2024,  

“Understanding Human Trafficking – United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State, United States Government, 12 Dec. 2023, 

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