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  3. Meeting of January 19, 2011 - Human Trafficking and Forced Labor
  4. Written Testimony of Florrie Burke Consultant and Co-Chair Freedom Network USA

Written Testimony of Florrie Burke Consultant and Co-Chair Freedom Network USA

Chairman Berrien. Commissioners Ishimaru, Barker, Feldblum and Lipnic, I thank you for the opportunity to speak about cases of human trafficking and the persons victimized by this crime. I am delighted that the Commission is holding this meeting highlighting the complex issues of forced labor and labor trafficking.


My name is Florrie Burke and I am currently the Co-Chair of the Freedom Network USA, a coalition of NGOs across the country that formed in 2001 following the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The mission of the Freedom Network (FN) and its Training Institute (FNTI) is to uphold and enforce the human rights principle that all human beings have the right to live free from forced labor, slavery and servitude. The Freedom Network recognizes the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men, women and children. No one should be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and everyone has the right to freedom of movement. When these principles are violated, we strive to ensure that exploited trafficked and enslaved persons are freed, able to enforce their legal and human rights, receive justice and have access to appropriate services and the opportunity to fight for change. Our Freedom Network Training Institute has offered rights based training to about ten thousand law enforcement, legal and social service first responders, communities, faith based organizations and government entities since 2003. Our curriculum is based on direct experience with cases of trafficking.

Labor Trafficking and its Victims

The road to labor trafficking is long, often circuitous and always fraught with danger and fear. Despite what traffickers think, their victims are not ignorant, are not lazy and are not immune to pain and injustice. Around the world men, women, boys and girls are trafficked daily into situations of labor servitude. I have interviewed hundreds of them-hard working, desperate individuals from dozens of countries, including our own. I have worked with Chilean men enslaved as cattle herders, underage girls sexually exploited as "bar girls," men and women working in factories, women held in slavery as domestic workers in the homes of Diplomats and wealthy doctors or business owners, agricultural workers in the fields and nurses forced to work as recruiters. The list goes on-hotel workers, construction workers, seasonal carnival employees, church choirs, magazine salespeople, brothel workers, nannies and more. Many were in this country on legal visas, others were undocumented. They were all mistreated and exploited. There are both physical and emotional scars left by the situation, but even worse is the rampant theft of dignity and personal confidence. The very tenets upon which the EEOC operates-fairness and lack of discrimination, are systematically stripped away from victims of this crime. Cheap labor is a dirty little secret-alive and well in all parts of the world. The individuals who cook and serve our food, do our laundry, process our poultry, take care of the cattle to be sold and consumed, look after our children, harvest our tomatoes, clean our homes and hotel rooms and care for our sick and elderly-these are the people at risk for exploitation and for slavery. Forced labor is linked to poverty and discrimination since victims in many parts of the world belong to castes, minorities or indigenous groups that are marginalized and stigmatized. These individuals are often uneducated which greatly increases their vulnerability.

Not only are working and living conditions deplorable, but trafficked persons are subjected to abuse-name calling, insults, assault, ridicule and humiliation. When I interview these survivors, it is the degradation resulting from this type of constant name calling based on ethnicity, race, gender, and/or nationality that stays with them the most and causes the greatest pain. I ask you to think about Rosa- a young woman in her twenties, intelligent, but not well educated. Rosa comes from Central America and had never before been out of her small town. An acquaintance in the town introduced her to a handsome man who proceeded to romance her and then offered her a job working in a restaurant in the U.S. Rosa's family is desperately poor, her father is ill and she provides most of the support. She felt this offer was an opportunity. What followed is the all too common scenario-a treacherous trip across the border, a period of "indoctrination" otherwise known as brutal physical and sexual assault and finally, the arrival into the "land of the free." Rosa was put to work in a restaurant as promised. But she also lived in the back of the restaurant, worked 16 hour days and was expected to entertain men after hours-for pay. She received no money, had no time off, and had no ability to leave. You might be thinking-a young, naïve, uneducated woman who fell for the oldest promise in the world-romance and a good job. Consider then JP, Vivek, Jagdish, the educated, highly skilled engineers and welders from India who were brought in on visas to work in a factory in Oklahoma. They too believed in opportunity and a chance to have a better life for themselves and their families. They too were deceived and had to endure horrible conditions and broken promises. What they have in common- Rosa and others like her and the Indian men, is the shared experience of personal shame, feelings of failure, and disillusionment in human beings.

In my work as an expert witness, I hear first- hand accounts of the humiliation and shame that erode one's opportunity to exercise personal agency for a time. Women and men who have been victimized by greedy opportunistic individuals have been called names repeatedly and told that they are worthless. In one case, a domestic worker was called "greedy," "a beggar," "stupid and slow" by her employer when the worker asked for a year's pay owed to her. She was horrified by theses names and replied," I am not cheap, I am not begging. I left everything to come and work here." In the case of some cattle herders who had been subjected to harsh conditions, one said to me, "I felt terrible at the time, but it served me to see how bad people can be. It taught me what my rights are and that is not OK to treat people that way." Another said, "I think many things have changed for me. It has taught me to be a better judge of people and to be as honest as I can with myself and others. The bosses thought it was OK that we worked all the time and they could treat us this way. When I think about the time on the ranch, something in my throat hurts me a lot."

From 2003-2006 I had the great honor of working as an Expert Witness in the Babbu Thanu Chellen et al, Plaintiffs v. John Pickle Co., Inc and John Pickle, Jr., Defendants. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff v. John Pickle Company, Inc., Defendant (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma). Robert Canino, the current Regional Attorney in the District Office of Dallas Texas, successfully prosecuted this complex case and set the bar for detail, compassion, perseverance and thoroughness. The number of victim-witnesses, the language issues, the labor laws, types of visas issued and the circumstances of their situation made this case unique. Mr. Canino was masterful in his ability to gain the trust of the workers and get the full facts of the case. I interviewed many of the men several times and was struck by their sadness and disillusionment as they described enduring insults such as "we employed 52 donkeys from India," and heard themselves referred to as "dirty Indians." This was compounded by unsafe living and working conditions, inadequate food and pay and a host of other abuses. I testified about the coercion, intimidation and psychological restraint and emotional harm to the plaintiffs in the Phase II Trial that took place in March 2005, in which the heart of the National Origin/Race Discrimination civil rights case was presented.  The Court issued her 70-pg written decision in 2006, finding in favor of the EEOC and the victims -- Concluding that Title VII, the FLSA and various other laws had been violated - including Fraud and False Imprisonment. Civil laws were wrapped around what was traditionally and most often approached as a criminal law enforcement. The EEOC took this case on when others wouldn't and it stands today as a landmark case among other human trafficking cases.

Human Trafficking is both Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking

The International Labor Organization (ILO) stresses that the "responses to trafficking need to move beyond the present focus on commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls towards a more holistic approach that includes the broader labor dimensions of human trafficking." The exclusive focus on sex trafficking by programs, media, legislation and law enforcement leads to serious problems and challenges. Those working in the informal labor sector are already invisible to many and the focus on sex trafficking further marginalizes them and takes attention away from the pervasive nature of labor trafficking.

Focusing on just sex trafficking overlooks the frequent sexual assault of those trapped in forced labor and it also ignores those women originally trafficked into sexualized labor industries such as strip clubs or are forced to work as bar girls, "hostesses", or "ballerinas" before they are forced into prostitution. Despite the fact that the TVPA defines this work as labor trafficking, most of the response to trafficking undertaken over the last ten years has failed to address the underlying factors that create the vulnerability to forced labor of countless men, women and children.

Law enforcement and service providers are likely to pay less attention to outreach, investigation and service provision for victims of labor trafficking if attention is only paid to sex trafficking.

Strategies for working with survivors of human trafficking Develop an outreach plan that includes participation in meetings and activities related to human trafficking.

Attend local task force meetings, conferences and agency in-service trainings to discuss the work of the EEOC and how it might overlap with issues of human trafficking cases.

Identification of victims of human trafficking is difficult and complex. Be familiar with the TVPRA, the elements of a trafficking crime. When cases are discussed at the EEOC, listen carefully for any indicators of force, fraud or coercion resulting in economic gain.

Be aware of the following indicators of human trafficking. This is not an exhaustive list, but some common "red flags" pointing out the need for further investigation.


  1. workers live on or near work site, live in employer-controlled housing
  2. guards outside workplace
  3. concertina wire facing in toward factory (to keep workers in) rather than facing out (to keep intruders out
  4. restricted and controlled communication and transportation
  5. someone else has possession of documents
  6. debt owed to employer or agents of employer
  7. third party insists on interpreting or being present for conversations
  8. injuries from beatings or weapons
  9. untreated infections
  10. constant car activity w/ men going in and out alone
  11. never seeing who lives in a place
  12. white vans transporting groups of people from worksites to living sites
  13. might assume an identity (wife, student, tourist, child)
  14. overly fearful
  15. may not know where they are
  16. "guarded" by another person (in hospitals, clinics)
  17. coached to answer questions
  18. physically afraid, but emotionally attached to trafficker
  19. self-blame

Utilize a victim-centered and strengths based approach. Individuals who have been in forced labor situations have a full life experience and identity that is not based solely on their trafficking. During interviews and in all interactions, interest in the person, respect and the ability to listen to the full story are key to both helping restore dignity and to getting the information needed from a case.

Take steps to empower the individual-provide information about the process, the people involved and the rights of the victim. Knowledge is power and helps to restore some control to those who have had it taken away.

Practice confidentiality, provide full language access, limit media exposure and always obtain consents from the survivor. Do not rush--getting the full story of forced labor takes time.

Be sure trafficked persons are linked up with service providers and maintain contact with them. Survivors of labor trafficking are anxious to work and often change location in order to find jobs. Services should be sought in the new location. Services for victims of trafficking can be located through the DOJ-Office for Victims of Crime Website. A list of grantee programs is available. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement also lists resources. The Human Trafficking Resource Center has links to service providers throughout the country. The DOJ-BJA federally funded task forces are also a source of provider programs throughout the country. In addition to those providers focusing specifically on human trafficking, workers rights groups, crime victim services, immigrant rights groups and sexual assault programs are helpful.

A kind of sexism exists among service providers. Female victims are often thought to be "more traumatized," "more sympathetic," and "more needy." Shelters are more available for women than men. Male survivors are particularly anxious to return to work and may tell service providers that they are fine. Service providers need to do a thorough assessment and locate assistance that is needed for everyone.

Practice good interviewing skills taking language and culture under consideration.

Ask open-ended questions and follow up with further questions to get the full narrative.


While it is understood that the EEOC may not have the authority to effect all these recommendations, it is important to be aware of them and collaborate with other agencies to work on the challenges of identifying and responding to human trafficking cases.

Provide training and information on labor trafficking to all EEOC investigators, attorneys and prosecutors. It is essential that people be familiar with and understand the stories of people who have been subjected to forced labor, the dynamics of human trafficking and the climate of fear. Training should be comprehensive and help explain how people are victimized, and what the social and legal environment is that allows such crimes to occur. www.freedomnetworkusa Learn from best practices around the globe and be sure that such practices and all current research be carefully assessed for methodology and efficacy. Many current studies and the statistics that follow are subject to lack of evidence based methods and corroborating results. Use the EEOC website to educate the public about the issues of discrimination often found in human trafficking cases.

When possible, assist other government entities in the creation of materials to be used for recruiters, consulates etc that are involved in bringing workers into this country on various visas. The materials should outline the anti-discrimination policies and the rights of persons working in this country.

Educate the NGO community about anti-discrimination policies and the overlap with human trafficking.

Investigators should interview carefully and keep in mind the following questions:

  • Was the person recruited? What was s/he promised?
  • Did someone else organize or force the person's migration/travel?
  • Was the person's passport or documents taken before or upon arrival in the destination country/state?
  • What were the actual working conditions once in the United States?
  • Was the person coerced? How? (violence, threats, psychological abuse)
  • Was the person paid? How much?
  • Did the person try to leave his/her job? What happened?
  • Is the person afraid of his/her employer? Why?
  • Is the person a minor involved in commercial sex?

Ensure that government agencies coordinate actions to combat forced labor and human trafficking. Enact regulations to monitor labor recruitment agencies and eliminate recruitment fees for migrant workers.

Publish and distribute guides for migrant workers setting forth their rights, and the legal process.

Ensure that national labor codes guarantee all workers in all sectors including domestic, agricultural, contract and sex work equal protection under the law and in compliance with international labor standards, including written contracts, minimum wage, overtime, weekly day of rest, limited workday, rest periods during the day, a safe and healthy workplace, benefits, and effective penalties for violating the law, as well as freedom of association and the right to organize.


In conclusion, I would say that human trafficking is not only an immigration issue, it is not only a criminal issue, it is not only a moral issue or women and children's' issue—it is a human rights issue and needs to be regarded as such. What is difficult to measure is the emotional damage suffered by these men and women who came here believing that they would perform the work they had been promised, have the same standard of living as that enjoyed by Americans, and the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. They quickly learned the harsh lessons of betrayal and deceit. Not only were they not treated the same as their American counterparts, but they were subjected to prejudice, foul language and personal insults as well as unhealthy and unsafe living conditions. The resulting loss of emotional, spiritual and physical health can have long term consequences on the well being of these individuals. The efforts of the EEOC to address this crime and its many forms of discrimination can do much to restore individual rights and personal dignity.