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Report sheds light on labor trafficking happening right here in Minnesota

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A new report has laid out the extent of labor trafficking and exploitation in Minnesota, and steps that should be taken to tackle it.

The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR), based in Minneapolis, released its "Asking the Right Questions" study on Tuesday, featuring testimony from people who say they have been compelled or tricked into providing labor against their will, often with the threat of violence.

Others tell stories of how they were victims of labor exploitation, as their employers would deny them fair pay, otherwise known as "wage theft."

The AHR says its investigations into labor trafficking turned up 17 incidents in Minnesota involving 36 victims over the past five years.

These included:

  • A woman who worked without pay as a nanny as her employer held onto her immigration documents and threatened to report her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a case reported widely when it was revealed).
  • Seven adult carnival workers on seasonal work visas working in deplorable conditions under constant threats and receiving less than minimum wage.
  • Two boys who were violently forced by gangs to carry drugs.
  • Three adults performing in a cultural group after their employer brought them to the United States with false promises and then kept them isolated and refused to pay their wages.

The report finds that foreign national workers tend to be those exploited for their labor, but also found that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are also not immune to trafficking, with one advocate saying he'd seen people with criminal records or who owe child support being exploited because they fear a run-in with the police.

AHR says labor exploitation is particularly "widespread" in Minnesota, with low-wage immigrant workers at higher risk of being exploited.

This can entail workers not only being denied pay, but also rest breaks, breaks for new mothers to pump breast milk, denying meals and a failure to pay overtime.

The AHR has come up with a series of recommendations to combat labor trafficking and exploitation in Minnesota, which includes a statewide public awareness campaign in multiple languages, so people in workplaces can recognize trafficking or exploitation.

It also calls on government agencies to provide training to community organizations, particularly those that deal with workers and workplace issues, so they can then recognize it.

At a federal level, it says immigration enforcement officers need better training and screening protocols to "effectively and consistently identify victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation" prior to deporting them from the country.

You can read the full report here.

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