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A Modern Slavery Act for the United States

Commercial sex trafficking and forced labor are two of the most widely practiced methods of modern day slavery which have potentially serious consequences for the United States. The United States needs better legislation and enforcement to address this growing problem of modern day slavery.

Typically, commercial sex trafficking is thought of as an international phenomenon, but the reality is that this is a domestic problem. In the United States, online escort services, brothels, and street prostitution are where sex trafficking is commonly found.[1] Operation Cross Country, a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) sting carried out over a week beginning on October 5th, 2015,  recovered 149 sexually exploited children and arrested more than 150 human traffickers and exploiters nationwide.[2] This sting, along with eight others between 2008-2014, demonstrate how prevalent sex trafficking is in the United States.[3] In fact, according to a study from 2007, Atlanta’s illegal sex industry brings in nearly $290 million dollars a year and similar operations in Washington, D.C. are thought to bring revenue totaling $103 million.[4] State and Federal law makers have attempted to address the problem by passing several statutes that are meant to protect victims and deter commercial sex trafficking.[5] Two such statutes are the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) which specifically criminalize commercial sex trafficking and provide legal relief to victims, allowing victims to receive restitution.[6] Along with strong legislation, there are programs in place to help victims of sex trafficking reintegrate into society.[7] In contrast, labor trafficking laws in the United States are generally lacking in preventing the importation of forced labor goods and holding businesses accountable for using trafficked labor.

Increasing globalization and interconnectedness of the global economy has thrust the issue of labor trafficking into the spotlight. Labor trafficking is defined as when a person is compelled through force, fraud, or coercion into providing labor or services.[8] The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates nearly twenty-one million people are trapped in the forced labor industries including agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing, globally.[9] A year ago the ILO’s data revealed forced labor in the private economy procures about $150 billion in illicit profits annually.[10] Evidence of labor trafficking’s growing concern internationally can be seen in the U.K.’s decision to implement the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.[11] The act provides that businesses with revenue of more than thirty-six million pounds and a presence in the U.K. publish a statement on their website detailing how they are ensuring no slavery or trafficking exists within their organizations or supply chains.[12] Though some critics claim this act does not go far enough, it is a good foundation from which further legislation can grow.[13]

The United States lacks a statute like the Modern Slavery Act and should craft a similar one. In the United States, the majority of labor trafficking victims are found in large farms, restaurants, carnivals, sales crews, and domestic services.[14] While statutes like 18 U.S.C. §§ 1581, 1584, 1589, 1590, 1592 address forced labor, the focus is on individuals being held liable or responsible as traffickers not businesses or corporations.[15] The United States enacted 19 U.S. Code § 1307 in 1932 which provides that foreign goods may not enter the United States that have been produced through forced labor.[16] Yet, a substantial loophole of § 1307 allows businesses to import forced labor goods if the consumptive demands in the United States outweigh the domestic production and manufacture.[17] In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor identified 136 goods from seventy-four countries were made by forced labor.[18] Additionally, the economy promotes the exportation of labor by businesses to countries outside of the United States where laborers suffer, are victims of trafficking, and endure sweatshop-like conditions; no one is held liable.

The first steps toward addressing forced labor have been taken; research and data tracking forced labor exists, non-forced labor standards exist, it follows that legislation needs to exist to enforce those standards and deter forced labor. The bare minimum action the United States could take is hold businesses accountable for using forced labor. Then businesses will be forced to follow a social compliance system in accordance with corporate social responsibility measures.[19] Forced labor should be addressed within labor laws as a standard, holding businesses accountable in the United States with hefty fines to enforce and deter labor trafficking. Accountability and transparency are the cornerstones of democracy; thus, legislation making businesses accountable is necessary.

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Preventing Human Trafficking in Global Supply Chains, U.S. Department of State (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).

[1] Venue/Industry of Potential Trafficking, Human Trafficking Case data table 2, p. 4-5. In annual report of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 2014. Retrieved from

[2] Office of Public Affairs, Operation Cross Country Recovering Victims of Child Sex Trafficking, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (Oct. 13, 2015).

[3] Emi Koyoma, Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country Sweeps table, FBI Press Releases (July 3, 2014)

[4] Erin Fuchs, Atlanta’s Underground Sex Trade is Booming, Business Insider (March 12, 2014, 12:26 PM)

[5] Current Federal Laws, Polaris Project (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).

[6] Id.

[7] Comm. on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation & Sex Trafficking of Minors in the U.S. et al, Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States, ch. 6.235 Victim Support and Services (2013),

[8] Labor Trafficking, Polaris Project (last visited Nov 5, 2015).

[9] Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Slavery, International Labour Organization–en/index.htm (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).

[10] Economics of Forced Labour, International Labour Organization–en/index.htm (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).

[12] Amelia Gentleman, UK firms must show proof they have no links to slave labour under new rules, The Guardian (Oct. 28, 2015, 9:41 AM),

[13] Klara Skrivankova, Analyses [of] the Modern Slavery Act, Anti-Slavery International

[14] Labor Trafficking, Polaris Project (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).

[15] Involuntary Servitude, Forced Labor, and Sex Trafficking Statutes Enforced, U. S. Department of Justice (Updated Aug. 6, 2015)

[17] Id.

[18] U.S. Department of Labor, List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor data table, p. 4-5. In annual report of Bureau of International Labor Affairs (2014) Retrieved from

[19] Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Basics of a Social Compliance System, U.S. Department of Labor (last visited Nov. 5, 2015).


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