Corporations, organizations, and even small businesses operating in the United States today need to have their wits about them when it comes to all form of trafficking and labor exploitation. Human trafficking is big-business globally—because to perpetrators, it represents a lucrative opportunity with relatively low risks. In fact, the risk falls upon the victim, and sometimes, upon a company that may not even know it’s playing host.

Two years ago, America was stunned when landmark legal action was launched against twelve hotel chains—who were publicly named and shamed—for failing to act on warning signs that women and children were being sex trafficked on their premises. Calling for a single legal judgment in all twelve cases, proceedings were removed to federal court earlier this year, and the cogs of justice continue to turn towards a verdict.

There can be no doubt that this case is one of the many signals telling us that the landscape surrounding due diligence obligations in this area are changing. Today’s businesses can take this as a cue—and even an opportunity—to set themselves apart through integrity-driven policy and a powerful anti-trafficking stance.

The Many Unseen Faces of Trafficking & Labor Exploitation

While the sex trafficking case above may be alarming to read about, it’s vital to know that labor exploitation comes in many guises, and human traffickers may prey on anyone who exhibits a vulnerability that can be exploited. Victims of human trafficking can be of any race, age, or gender, and of any citizenship status—with businesses of all types and sizes serving as the scene where exploitation takes place, or as the perfect cover for its concealment.

Illuminating the issue for better understanding, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines labor trafficking 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”. Whenever any of these criteria are met, the “T” word applies—and the buck doesn’t always stop with the trafficker.

Estimates suggest that human trafficking strips the freedom of some 40.3 million people around the world, while roughly 24.9 million people are trapped in forced labor. Today’s growing practice of outsourcing and sub-contracting only increases incentives for traffickers, while complicating the task of businesses trying to keep their operations clean of exploitation. Crucially, exploiting these businesses is essential to the traffickers; they require the space, money flow, transportation, or advertising to keep their illicit activities under the radar of the authorities.

Protecting Both Your Business and Victims of Trafficking

Just as companies can be held liable for corporate crime, direct use of forced labor or involvement in human trafficking establishes a slippery slope towards legal ramifications, be they criminal proceedings or third party litigation. We mentioned due diligence obligations, and in consideration of the shifting labor landscape, these should certainly be enshrined in company policies and practices. Proactivity when it comes to detecting and preventing labor exploitation and human trafficking serves as both a shield and public service—while clear strategies to prevent, report, and remedy crimes uncovered means stepping ahead of the issue, and leading by example.

Turning to corporate investigations specialists for support in navigating the risks of all forms of trafficking and exploitation can provide businesses with unparalleled peace of mind. Simple practices that such professionals can facilitate—such as performing contractor and supplier background checks alongside conducting periodic Corporate Culture Audits—can serve as powerful preventative tools.

When worrying signs arise, a documented and decisive corporate investigation will not only shine a light on criminality, but will also showcase an organization demonstrating their civic duty and core values. Whatever the nature of your business, Lauth Investigations is here to assist you in meeting the challenge of exploitation head on. Contact our team today to learn more about what we can do for you.