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Labor Exploitation

Labor Exploitation

Labor exploitation investigations focus on reducing illegal employment, holding employers accountable, and protecting employment opportunities for the country's lawful workforce.

Millions of people, including children, are forced to work through deception, coercion, and abuse of legal processes all over the world.

Labor exploitation is a humanitarian issue and poses risks to our nation's safety and security. Many industries exploiting workers are part of our daily lives — such as food and agriculture, manufacturing, clothing production, health and beauty services, childcare and cleaning services.

Understanding Labor Exploitation

Criminals exploit people for profit while committing worksite violations and other crimes, such as fraud and money laundering. They often change their methods and tactics to evade justice, like changing workers’ schedules so they work overnight or off-hours shifts when inspections are less likely to occur. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials conducted many worksite inspections remotely — and that allowed employers to hide labor law violations from federal law enforcement agencies.

Technology has expanded criminals’ reach, capacity and efficiency, helping them target and coerce workers. Criminals also sell their victims’ services and products online, using technology to create fake, high-quality documentation to reduce their chances of getting caught.

The Impact of Labor Exploitation

The consequences of labor exploitation include:

  • Safety and humanitarian issues. Labor exploitation subjects workers to abusive and unsafe working conditions, including long hours, low wages, lack of benefits and exposure to hazards.
  • Individual trauma. Forced labor has long-lasting effects on victims’ mental health, self-esteem and ability to trust others. Workers experience physical, psychological and emotional trauma because of their exploitation.
  • Supply chains and global trade. Labor exploitation weakens global trade networks’ integrity and resilience, leaving companies vulnerable to supply chain interruptions and legal liabilities. It also perpetuates unfair competition which can distort trade patterns.

HSI's Response to Labor Exploitation

HSI’s labor exploitation investigations focus on protecting our nation's critical infrastructures, reducing illegal employment and protecting employment opportunities for the country's workforce.

Labor exploitation cases target employers involved in criminal activity and worker exploitation. They often entail other forms of criminal activity, such as human smuggling, document fraud, human rights abuses and other violations linked to the employment of unauthorized workers.

HSI conducts investigations that target egregious worksite violators. These investigations lead to judgments against employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers, which deter employers who want to hire unauthorized workers.

HSI’s labor exploitation program maintains integrity in the U.S. immigration system, eases pressure at the borders, promotes self-compliance in the business community, and protects employment opportunities for the nation's workforce. HSI is one of three agencies that conducts employment audits to identify businesses involved in labor exploitation.

HSI trains and educates stakeholders on how to identify and respond to labor exploitation in their communities. As part of this, IMAGE, an interactive mutual agreement, is an outreach program that gives employers the tools and knowledge they need to hire and maintain a legal workforce.

The Path Forward

Addressing labor exploitation requires a multifaceted approach that enhances enforcement mechanisms and promotes worker empowerment and ethical labor practices. HSI is committed to identifying and disrupting forced labor, providing security and stabilization for victims, and educating U.S. companies on best employment practices to prevent future violations.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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