How many people are in modern slavery in United States?
There are an estimated 57,700 people in modern slavery in the US, according to GSI estimates.
Country Findings of Prevalence
Estimate number enslaved
There are an estimated 57,700 people in modern slavery in the US, according to GSI estimates.
In the absence of nationally representative survey data, this estimate is based on extrapolation from the limited data points available on the prevalence of modern slavery in highly developed countries. Mathematical modelling of the factors that make individuals vulnerable to modern slavery confirms that the United Kingdom and the United States have a similar risk profile. Hence, as no nationally representative surveys have been undertaken in the United States, the UK proportion was applied to the U.S following our established extrapolation method.
Several recent estimates for specific industries enable to place in context the GSI 2016 estimate for the U.S. In 2012, sociologist Sheldon Zhang from the San Diego State University estimated “there are 38,458 victims of labour trafficking violations in San Diego County. There could be as many as 2,472,000 trafficking victims just among unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the U.S…” The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that “1 in 5 of the 11,800 runways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2015 were likely sex trafficking victims.”
In 2013 the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimated that there were “57,000 to 63,000 people enslaved out of a U.S. population of 315 million.” However, many previous U.S. estimates often relate to specific industries or populations rather than the global prevalence estimation technique that the GSI follows. This method adheres to a more internationally inclined and broader definition of human trafficking to include slavery-like practices such as forced marriage and child marriage.
While not considered to be prevalence estimates, there are still efforts to publicly report valuable human trafficking data in the United States by reputable sources such as the United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), operated by Polaris, in 2015, 5,544 Human Trafficking cases were reported based on 21,947 calls. From these cases, the most reported venues/industries for labour trafficking included domestic work, agriculture, traveling sales crews, restaurants/food service, and health and beauty services. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
In 2016, the Walk Free Foundation, Gallup, and Polaris undertook survey research to better understand the general awareness of the NHTRC’s hotline number among the American public, through the Gallup U.S. nightly public opinion survey. Ultimately, the results suggest that a relatively small proportion of the American public are informed about it, with only 6.7% indicating they know the NHTRC specifically and 12% aware that there is a hotline focused on human trafficking. This indicates that the 5,544 cases reported in 2015 is likely a small proportion of the actual prevalence of human trafficking in the United States.
What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in United States?
The U.S. attracts undocumented workers, migrants, and refugees, who can be at particular risk of vulnerability to human trafficking upon their arrival and during their stay in the U.S. Research undertaken on vulnerable migrant labourer populations in San Diego, California, and in North Carolina suggests that these populations often include undocumented seasonal labourers who experience significant language barriers, cultural non-assimilation, and fear of deportation.
Average Vulnerability Score
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Research also indicates that runaway and homeless youth populations face notable vulnerabilities to human trafficking. Covenant House, one of the U.S.’ largest privately-funded childcare agencies providing assistance to runways and homeless children, has been conducting research on the prevalence of human trafficking and survival sex as well as labour trafficking among homeless and runaway youth in New York City, New York, and New Orleans, Louisiana. The research supported the findings that vulnerabilities such as housing insecurity were critical motivating factors in prompting minors to engage in survival sex. The New York study identified as many as 48% of the study population who indicated that they engaged in survival sex specifically to obtain shelter. There appears to be compelling evidence to support associations between “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth, young men who have sex with men (MSM), and young women who have sex with women (YWSW) who are involved in the commercial sex market in order to meet basic needs, such as food and shelter.” Research by the Washington-based Urban Institute provides context for how prevalent commercial sex industries are in the United States by investigating the underground commercial sexual economy in eight major U.S. cities. While the scope and scale of trafficking was difficult to determine, the researcher were able to interview pimps and traffickers who indicated that they cashed between $5,000 and $32,833 per week.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute for Justice is actively funding research with the explicit objective to develop better prevalence estimates in the United States.
How is the United States Government tackling modern slavery?
The United States offers a model for survivor leadership. President Barack Obama has formed an Advisory Council on Human Trafficking made up entirely of survivors, while a national network of over 200 survivors across the country meet regularly to work on strategic advocacy at both local and national levels. Additionally, the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG) of the President’s Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking reported in 2015 that the federal government has achieved the first Partnership for Freedom competition that encourages public-private partnerships to innovate solutions to problems related to modern slavery as well as cross-agency collaboration on the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative and implementation of the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.
Government Response Rating
In 2015, the U.S. Government also established the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP), a new bureau dedicated to trafficking in persons in the Department of Health and Human Services which aims to establish a cohesive national human trafficking victim service delivery system for all trafficking victims in the United States.
There is growing consumer pressure and legal imperative for large multinational companies to start seriously engaging with labour abuses in their supply chains. Through the 2010 California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the 2012 United States Executive Order 13627, the U.S. became the first country to require large companies grossing over $100,000 in annual worldwide receipts to report on steps taken to slavery-proof supply chains and imposed duties on federal contractors and subcontractors to take preventative measures to eliminate slavery. In February 2016, the Government went a step further amending a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 requiring Customs and Border Protection to seize and block imports made with forced labour. These determinations would be assessed on the basis of petitions from any interested party demonstrating “reasonably but not conclusively” that imports were affected by forced labour in addition to regularly published U.S. Department of Labor lists of goods produced by child or forced labour. Previously, if there was “consumptive demand” for a product and insufficient supply to meet that demand, imports were allowed in regardless of how they were produced. This breakthrough legislative change, if appropriately implemented, may have significant impacts on global supply chains.
Throughout 2015, these legislative and consumer pressures began to impact some companies. Nestlé, the world’s largest food manufacturer, publically uncovered and disclosed modern slavery practices in their seafood supply chain in Thailand. However, the food giant also fought, and failed, in its bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to hold them liable for the use of children harvesting cocoa in the Ivory Coast. The reputational risk of slavery in supply chains and in some cases, the desire to make change, forced action from other global brands. Clothing company Patagonia uncovered that some workers in its Taiwanese factories would take up to two years of a three year employment contract to pay off recruitment-related debt. They have since taken unprecedented steps to tackle forced labour at their fabric mills suppliers.
Poverty and social instability among specific populations – namely undocumented people, homeless persons, and runaway youth – are some of many vitiating factors contributing to the risk of slavery in the U.S. These factors motivate workers in manual sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and farming to work in dangerous conditions. They also play a role in prompting minors to engage in survival sex.
While the United States is dedicating federal funding to tackle human trafficking and is making progress in this regards, unmet needs remains. There is room to improve the provision of appropriate housing for child trafficking victims, to increase the screening for at-risk populations to identify trafficked persons, and to prosecute more cases of labour trafficking according to the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report issued by the U.S. Department of State.
Additionally, the U.S. government is recommended to obtain bi-partisan legislative support for the bills to address business supply chain transparency, foreign labour recruiting practices, as well as push for the child welfare system reform.
What do we recommend
- Improve the provision of appropriate housing for child trafficking victims.
- Increase screening of at-risk persons for human trafficking.
- Prosecute more cases of labour trafficking.
- Obtain bi-partisan legislative support for the bills to address business supply chain transparency, foreign labour recruiting practices,as well as push for the child welfare system reform.
- Sheldon Zhang et al., 'Estimating Labour Trafficking among Unauthorised Migrant Workers in San Diego', The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 653, 1, pp. 65-86 (2014).
- "Child Sex Trafficking", National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, last accessed May 26, 2016, http://www.missingkids.org/1in5
- Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index 2013, (Walk Free Foundation, 2013), accessed 26/05/2016: www.globalslaveryindex.org
- "The Expansion of NIBRS", Federal Bureau of Investigation, last accessed May 26, 2016, https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/nibrs/2014
- "Hotline Statistics", National Human Trafficking Resource Centre, last accessed May 26, 2016, https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/states
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- Meredith Dank et al., Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex, (Urban Institute, 2015), accessed 26/05/2016: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/surviving-streets-new-york-experiences-lgbtq-youth-ymsm-and-ywsw-engaged-survival-sex
- Meredith Dank et al., Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities, (Urban Institute, 2014), accessed 26/05/2016: http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413047-Estimating-the-Size-and-Structure-of-the-Underground-Commercial-Sex-Economy-in-Eight-Major-US-Cities.PDF
- Heather J. Clawson, Mary Layne, and Kevonne Small, Estimating Human Trafficking into the United States: Development of a Methodology, (United States Department of State, 2006), accessed 26/05/2016: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/215475.pdf
- Sugeily Fernandez, 'New Survivors Council to Advise Federal Government on Anti-Trafficking Policy', Human Rights First, January 15, 2016, accessed 03/05/2016: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/new-survivors-council-advise-federal-government-anti-trafficking-policy
- "Background", National Survivor Network, last accessed May 3, 2016, http://nationalsurvivornetwork.org/
- The President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Progress in Combating Trafficking in Persons: The U.S. Government Response to Modern Slavery, (United States Department of State, 2015), accessed 26/05/2016: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/251297.pdf
- Mark Greenberg, 'ACF Creates New Office on Trafficking in Persons', Administrator for Children and Families, June 10, 2015, accessed: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/blog/2015/06/acf-creates-new-office-on-trafficking-in-persons
- California State Senate, California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010.
- Martha Mendoza, 'Federal officials are preparing to enforce an 86-year-old ban on importing goods made by children or slaves under new provisions of a law signed by President Barack Obama', Associated Press, February 25, 2016, accessed 17/03/2016: http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-02-24/obama-bans-us-imports-of-slave-produced-goods
- "Nestlé takes action to tackle abuses in the seafood supply chain", Nestlé , November 23, 2015, accessed 26/05/2016, http://www.nestle.com.au/media/newsandfeatures/nestl%C3%A9-takes-action-to-tackle-abuses-in-the-seafood-supply-chain
- Reuters, 'Supreme Court Rejects Nestle Bid to Throw Out a Child Slavery Suit', Fortune, January 11, 2016, accessed 16/03/2016: http://fortune.com/2016/01/11/nestle-supreme-court-child-slavery/
- Declan Croucher, 'Solutions: How Patagonia is Addressing Forced Labour in its Supply Chain', Verité, accessed 16/03/2016: http://www.verite.org/vision/june2015/solutions
- "Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Legislation", Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, last modified January 14, 2015, https://endslaveryandtrafficking.org/business-transparency-on-trafficking-and-slavery-legislation/
- "Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad Act (S.744)", Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, last modified May 8, 2013, https://endslaveryandtrafficking.org/prevention-of-trafficking-in-persons-and-abuses-involving-workers-recruited-abroad-act-s-744/
- "Appropriations Guide", Alliance to end Slavery and Trafficking, https://endslaveryandtrafficking.org/appropriations-guide/
- Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: United States Country Narrative , (United States Department of State, 2015), pp. 352-357, accessed 26/05/2016: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/243562.pdf