The 25 Types of Modern Slavery

When you think of  modern slavery, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sex work? Private domestic service? Agricultural labor? While it’s true that these industries often see gross abuses of human dignity, they’re not the only ones. The list of everyday products and services touched by modern slavery is a long one. Many may live closer to home than we think.

On the Front Lines

One of the brightest lights in this sector is the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating modern slavery. In a recent study, Polaris used data compiled from thousands of reports over the last decade to identify the main types of trafficking and describe the business models that support them.

The report, entitled “The Typology of Modern Slavery: Defining Sex and Labor Trafficking in the United States,” took a critical look at more than 32,000 cases of potential sex trafficking and nearly 11,000 cases of possible labor exploitation in the U.S. between December 2007 and December 2016. The result is a sobering sketch of both victims and traffickers, as well as the unexpected spaces in which they operate.

Recruitment, Control, and Exploitation

Victims are often members of vulnerable, marginalized, or otherwise at-risk populations, including LGBTQ+ minors, runaways, or immigrants looking for work in the U.S.

Traffickers exert control through violence, debt bondage, language barriers, drug dependence, illegal contracts, or by maintaining a hold on vital paperwork like passports or visas. Like any crime syndicate, human trafficking operations make use of existing infrastructure to move and exploit their victims. This may include the transportation, financial, agricultural, and entertainment sectors, though the business models vary from industry to industry.

Below are the 25 industries in which the Polaris report identified cases of human trafficking and exploitation.

  • Escort Services
  • Illicit Massage, Health, & Beauty
  • Outdoor Solicitation
  • Residential Domestic Work
  • Bars, Strip Clubs, & Cantinas
  • Pornography
  • Traveling Sales Crews
  • Restaurants & Food Service
  • Peddling & Begging
  • Agriculture & Animal Husbandry
  • Personal Sexual Servitude
  • Health & Beauty Services
  • Construction
  • Hotels & Hospitality Landscaping
  • Illicit Activities
  • Arts & Entertainment
  • Commercial Cleaning Services
  • Factories & Manufacturing
  • Remote Interactive Sexual Acts
  • Carnivals
  • Forestry & Logging
  • Healthcare
  • Recreation
Spotlight: Trafficking in the Health & Beauty Industries

Hiding behind the pretense of a legitimate storefront, traffickers in these industries leverage existing business networks to recruit, coerce, and control their victims, most of whom share a racial and ethnic profile with the trafficker. In this form of labor trafficking, victims work long hours for no wages, experience forced isolation from the rest of the community, and are often moved around between businesses within the trafficker’s network. CCTVs and strict monitoring procedures may further isolate the victims and prevent them from reaching out for help.

Learn, Identify, Interrupt

Important to note is the fact that these illicit and illegal storefronts make it their business to look legitimate, which therefore makes it extremely difficult to identify and interrupt their networks. That is one reason why it is up to those who do make a living in these industries (salon professionals, massage therapists, healthcare practitioners, etc.) to learn the facts and understand the patterns—because when you know what it should be, it’s that much easier to identify a situation in which it’s gone wrong.

Research and article courtesy of Judith Munson.


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