Freedom Denied: Forced Labor in California

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David Tuller, Eric Stover, Laurel Fletcher
Publication Date
February 1, 2005
Publication Type
Conflict, Public Health


Globalization and the ease of international air travel and communications have opened up great opportunities for millions of Americans. But they have also opened up great opportunities for the exploiters of forced labor to bring people here from other parts of the world and, by means of fear, threats against their families, and sometimes actual physical constraint, to force them to work in ill-paid jobs as prostitutes, domestic servants, and sweatshop laborers. As one of the half dozen largest economies in the world, California has a special responsibility to take a leadership role in eradicating forced labor. The federal government has made some important moves against forced labor, but the problem cannot be solved by federal legislation alone. States must also do their part, none of them more so than the nation’s most populous, with hundreds of forced laborers in its midst. California is a cornucopia, both for its people and for the world, but the goods that are produced here — from clothes to food to manufactured items — should be produced by men and women enjoying full human rights, not by people living in fear, with the fruits of their labor taken from them. This report lays out the problem of forced labor in California and calls on lawmakers in Sacramento to adopt legislation that will increase prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking and forced labor, provide adequate protections and services to victims and their families, and establish a statewide coordinating agency to generate policies and programs aimed at eradicating this illicit trade. Our research in this report identified 57 forced labor operations in almost a dozen cities in California between 1998 and 2003, involving more than 500 individuals from 18 countries.