Labor Trafficking Vs. Labor Law Violations

Employers owe their workers certain rights, such as fair pay and breaks. Learn more about wage and hour violations and labor trafficking.

Labor trafficking is a fairly new and underrecognized concept in the public’s understanding of human trafficking. But it is a real problem in many communities around the world. Labor trafficking is defined by Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, as amended as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

In other words, labor trafficking refers to an illegal situation where a trafficker forces, defrauds, or coerces an individual into providing labor or services for the financial gain of the trafficker. Trafficking is not the only way that employers can violate the law. Wage and labor violations are crimes that deprive workers of the necessities owed by their workplaces, such as fair pay or medical leave.

Someone may take a job that violates labor laws for a variety of reasons, and it may be their only option. They may feel the need to stay at this exploitative job to survive or provide for their family, while there may not be an outside individual explicitly physically forcing or psychologically coercing them to stay.

Recognizing Wage and Hour Violations

Both labor trafficking, and wage and hour violations break labor laws and result in unfair wages. They both may include poor working and living conditions; the main distinction is that labor trafficking situations include force, fraud or coercion. Workers experiencing wage and hour violations also have the freedom to move or leave, whereas victims of labor trafficking have extremely limited freedom to leave or none at all. There are many ways an employer can violate labor laws and each state has different rules, and the first step to effectively combatting these practices is to inform ourselves on these practices.

When Work Breaks the Law

Under federal law, employers cannot retaliate against employees who exercise their rights. The U.S. government offers resources to file a complaint against unlawful employers in many different languages. These resources are vast, including instructions on how to file a complaint and fact sheets on workers’ rights across industries.

If you suspect you may be a victim of human trafficking or want to learn more information, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233733.


This blog post was produced by the International Institute of St. Louis under grant number 90ZV0144-01-00 awarded by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the office position or policies of the US Department of Health and Human Services.