A few years ago, as I was doing my catalog Christmas shopping, I had questions, so I decided to call the company directly. Their customer service is excellent. As the representative was chatty, I imagine it must have been a slower evening. She eventually asked me what I do for work outside the home.

I told her, including that I give presentations to educate the public on labor and sex trafficking. When I told her about agriculture trafficking, she related a couple of stories about what she thought was in her area, the mistreatment of migrant farmworkers. She asked me what she could do so, I shared information and then finished my order.

I could report statistics related to trafficking. People want to see data before they will believe human trafficking exists in their area. The problem is that available data is only relevant to the number of cases reported. Because of the nature of the crime, there are many more cases that are unreported.

To prevent escape and reporting, victims are controlled by their owners through psychological means. To make it more challenging to seek help, they are denied their identification papers. Trusting is nearly impossible because within some agencies, including law enforcement, there is corruption. In agriculture trafficking, those who want to help are refused admittance to farms. In fear of being seen talking to outsiders, workers run away from them.

According to the (US) National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888), California is an example of the difficulty of assisting agriculture trafficked laborers. Often the first to recognize trafficked laborers, in June 2018, labor organizers were dealt a blow by the Supreme Court, which ruled that property rights protect farm owners from allowing organizers to meet with laborers on-site.

Workers in any state don’t usually have transportation to go elsewhere. Even if they did, the long, grueling workdays make it nearly impossible to do anything else. Add to that, female workers with children have no access to childcare. In many instances, they are isolated by design.

There are glimmers of hope as more states pass legislation for farm workers to have the same labor rights as anyone. They are entitled to the same minimum wage and benefits accorded to workers in other industries. Still, I talked with the owner of a tea plantation in the southern United States who felt he shouldn’t have to provide any better living circumstances or benefits than from where the workers came and that knowing if laborers were trafficking victims was not up to him, but rather the crew managers.

The bottom line is to know about the people behind the food we eat. Locally produced doesn’t mean it’s slave-free. Slavery never left this planet. The pandemic has caused slavery to increase. Which doesn’t mean we can’t all pitch in and do something. If we’re suspicious of a circumstance, report it to the National Hotline. Look into the background of our food choices. Look at our food and be curious.

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