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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows for National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity and a grave threat to the freedom and liberty of millions in the United States and around the world. Therefore, President Biden has proclaimed January 2022 as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month’s dedication is vital to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking and educating people about how to spot this horrific crime.

Survivors of human trafficking include men, women, and children, and are disproportionately members of immigrant, migrant, or other vulnerable communities. In the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we recognize that every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The EEOC’s enforcement of protections against workplace discrimination has an important role in the fight to end human trafficking and to fulfill America’s promise of equal justice. When force, fraud or coercion are used to compel labor or exploit workers, traffickers and employers may violate not only criminal laws but also the federal laws enforced by our agency – in particular, the laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the bases of race, national origin, sex and disability.

For example, in August 2020, the EEOC reached a settlement with Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards, the last defendants in a long-running lawsuit involving trafficking of Thai farmworkers. The EEOC’s suit alleged that several farms had hired Thai farmworkers through a labor services company, Global Horizon, and subjected them to severe discrimination, including the inability to travel off the farms, inadequate food, substandard and unsanitary housing, and abusive working conditions because of their race and national origin. The agency obtained initial monetary relief and changes to employment practices from the two farms in a publicly filed consent decree. The EEOC has also recently collected $4.8 million for 54 affected workers who worked in Hawaii to partially satisfy an earlier judgment against another defendant farm in the Global Horizons Hawaii litigation – Maui Pineapple.

In addition, in recent years, some of the EEOC’s most notable efforts have been related to protecting survivors of human trafficking under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2018, the EEOC filed suit in South Carolina against Work Services, Inc., seeking remedies for discrimination against six employees with intellectual disabilities who worked at a turkey processing plant. The suit sought relief for years of unpaid wages, adverse terms and conditions of employment, and a hostile work environment on behalf of workers who were particularly vulnerable to abuse, financial exploitation, and the denial of their basic legal rights. We coordinated with federal, state, and county authorities, and resolved the case by a five-year consent decree that included injunctive and monetary relief.

In a similar lawsuit in 2013, a jury awarded the EEOC $240 million – the largest verdict in the agency’s history – against Hill Country Farms, Inc., doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service. The suit sought relief for 32 workers with intellectual disabilities who suffered trafficking, exploitation, abuse, and discrimination at a turkey processing plant from 2007-2009, after 20 years of similar mistreatment. Although the award was later reduced due to statutory limits, the verdict sent a powerful message to companies about the need to respect the rights of the most vulnerable workers.

In addition to our enforcement efforts, the EEOC also conducts outreach and education to convey information about employment rights and responsibilities, including those related to labor trafficking under federal employment discrimination laws. In fiscal year 2021, we held 71 agency outreach events with 3,563 attendees that addressed trafficking issues.

The EEOC is pleased to participate in the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which includes 20 federal agencies responsible for the coordination of government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking. EEOC employees are working enthusiastically to implement the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking to support U.S. and global anti-trafficking efforts:

  • We are participating in efforts to develop screening tools and training for frontline staff on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and ways to address it once identified.
  • We stand ready to investigate and pursue claims referred from criminal enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, and international partners where labor trafficking also may violate federal antidiscrimination laws.
  • To increase early awareness among teens, we are updating the EEOC’s Youth@Work program materials to add information on labor trafficking for high school students who are starting their first jobs.

To protect our individual rights to freedom and dignity, each of us can play a part in ending human trafficking – by becoming more informed of its devastating impact, raising awareness about its atrocities, and reporting instances of inhumane working conditions. Through our multiprong approach of enforcement, education, and empowerment, the EEOC is committed to protecting our most vulnerable populations from the horrors of human trafficking and advancing equal opportunity in the workplace for all.