The Facts About Labor Trafficking

Last week we touched on fast fashion. This week we want to dig a little bit deeper and talk about the labor trafficking that is so often found in the fast fashion industry. Along with fast fashion, labor trafficking is also commonly seen as domestic servitude in homes, crop labor, factory labor, and seasonal jobs (we will touch more on this later).

Labor trafficking can be defined as “a form of modern day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many industries. It is estimated that there are 224.9 million people trapped in force labor.” (National Human Trafficking Hotline)

Indicators of forced labor include coercive recruitment, deception about the nature of the work that is expected of them, confiscation of their identity papers or travel documents, physical or sexual violence, forced overtime, limited freedom of movement or communication, withholding or delaying of wages, and denunciation to authorities. Child laborers and forced laborers produce many products that we see today including cotton for clothing, holiday decorations, coffee and cocoa as well as sugarcane, tobacco, fruits and vegetables, and seafood.

With 224.9 million people trapped in forced labor, it’s a wonder they are able to slip under our noses. You might think that maybe the victims of labor trafficking are underprivileged. Possibly originating from third world countries and most definitely at the wrong place at the wrong time. Hell, haven't we all heard people use blame to explain how a victim put themselves in a position to be taken advantage of and abused in labor trafficking situations? 

Would you believe us if we told you that the victims of trafficking are the same as you and I? We know, this is said so often. We are all human, we are all the same, blah blah blah. However, without getting sappy, isn’t that the truth? These are our sons and daughters, these are our friends, our grandparents, the sweet neighbor that shares her garden produce, these are people, just as you and I are people. Yet more times than not we don’t even realize what these victims are experiencing because they are forced to suffer in silence.

Guess what? You might not even realize you’re supporting the abusers of labor trafficking. There are many well known companies guilty of taking advantage of labor trafficking. With a quick Google search, and the help of we were able to find a few of our previous favorites. Companies such as Nike (they are working to improve and better themselves), Forever21, Urban Outfitters, and Ralph Lauren are just a crumb to the entire problem. These companies, as well as many like them, are guilty of buying cheap goods produced by trafficking victims, who are provided fair pay or treated with dignity.  

It amazed us that we could simply Google search companies that were rumored or had been proven guilty of labor trafficking. People have had time to research, write about and name these companies yet these companies are still working as they always have, without being shut down. Why? Why is our legal system not shutting down known labor traffickers? Why are we stocking the shelves of our stores with products from companies that have knowingly supported child labor and human trafficking, amongst a slew of other immoral and unethical issues?

This is happening everywhere. We aren’t talking about the big cities or the faraway places that we can push out of our minds and compartmentalize as someone else’s issue. We’re talking about our own state, our own city, our next-door neighbor. Yes, there are people here in South Dakota that are guilty of labor trafficking! The seasonal jobs that I mentioned above are a huge market for labor trafficking in this area. The most obvious, the Sturgis Rally, has been rumored to bring in young girls as escorts to gross, older men to “show them a good time." Sex trafficking is happening. Believe it or not, its not uncommon for DCI agents and law-enforcement officials to intermingle with the usual rally crowd (that brings in hundreds of thousands of motorcyclist within a week) to investigate these sex trafficking operations. 

The gambling and hotel industry here in South Dakota is also something we need to be looking into closer. It has been rumored that certain powerful individuals in our community have been guilty of labor trafficking for years. By lying and promising experience in American business, they are able to fly in young adults from Asian countries to work for less than minimum wage under the threat of being deported if they don’t comply. Shame on you. 

As for the community members, seasonal work here may not give you your minimum wages. The Fair Labor Standards Act has different rules when it comes to seasonal employees. “Employees of an amusement or recreational establishment, organize camp or religious or nonprofit educational conference center are exempt from the laws requirements as long as the company doesn’t operate for more than seven months in a calendar year.” (  Amusement or recreational establishment sounds a lot like the tourism industry here. Our point is, there is always an exception and people, very greedy people, are always willing to find it.

We can’t help what we don’t know, so educate yourself. We would hope that if you are unknowingly supporting trafficking of any kind you would do your best to stop. After all, these aren't just businesses we're supporting, but families and people's lives we are destroying. When you change your point of view and really think about the cost of your decisions, it’s easier to make the right one. Be brave. Call out those that are wrong. Be strong. Make the right decision no mater how cute and cheap that throw blanket is! Here at Sharktooth, we are doing our best to make the decision that much easier for you. 


Department of Labor,

Labor Trafficking,

Slave Free Buying Guide,,

All photos from Unsplash