What is Labor Trafficking?

Labor trafficking is a form of trafficking in which a person is compelled through force, fraud, and/or coercion for labor. Labor trafficking can happen to adults or children, men or women, American citizens or foreign nationals, legal migrants or undocumented workers. According to the U.S. Department of State, forms of labor trafficking include: forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiering, and forced commercial sexual exploitation. 

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Forced Labor

Forced labor is any work or service which people are forced, tricked, or coerced to do against their will. Force labor happens in both formal and informal labor settings. 

Almost all trafficking experience, including sex trafficking, contain some element of forced labor.


Domestic Servitude

Domestic servitude is a sub-category of forced labor that happens in a domestic setting, such as a home. This includes childcare or care for the elderly, housekeeping, maids or servants, nannying, and other work happening in homes.

It has unique challenges because homes can be a very isolated setting.

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Debt Bondage / Peonage

These terms have been used interchangeably to describe when a person is forced to engage in labor to pay off a debt, and is also know as bonded labor.

Peonage can sometimes refer to 'social debts' or connection to systemic debts rather than an interpersonal debt, such as prison laborers. 


Although we do not hear reports about labor trafficking as often in the media as we do about sex trafficking, there are many cases of trafficking that have happened here in the Greater New Orleans region. Here are some examples of high-profile cases and coverage of labor trafficking from our jurisdiction.


Signal International Case: Debt bondage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

The Signal International Case is one of the largest labor trafficking cases in American history. After Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana coast in 2005, hundreds of Indian men traveled to the gulf coast to work as welders and pipe fitters on damaged oil rigs, lured by the promise of permanent US residency and a good job with Signal International. 

The workers were required to pay $10,000 each to recruiters, in return for residency documents for themselves and families as well as good paying work. Signal did not make good on those promises. The victims were held in debt bondage – forced to pay over $1000 a month per person to live in guarded labor camps where up to 24 people lived in 1800 sq foot camps. Signal, as well as an Indian labor recruiter, and a New Orleans lawyer were found guilty of labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering, and discrimination. The victims were award $14 million dollars. 

Signal International acknowledged it was “wrong in failing to ensure that the guest workers were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved” as they worked for the company repairing damaged oil rigs and related Gulf Coast facilities in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. 


More than 350 Filipino guest workers were lured to teach in Louisiana public schools, cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars and forced into exploitative contracts by an international trafficking ring run by labor contractors. The guest workers were hired on H1-B visas to fill the teaching positions. About 200 of the teachers were assigned to the East Baton Rouge school system; others were spread among the Caddo Public School District, Jefferson Parish Public School System and the Recovery School District as well as other school districts in Louisiana. 

Nearly all the teachers had to borrow money to pay the recruiting fees; the recruiters referred them to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent interest per month. Teachers were forced to pay these exorbitant fees because they had already made substantial financial investments that would not be returned and because the recruiters confiscated their passports and visas until they paid. The teachers were also forced to sign away an additional 10 percent of the salaries they would earn during their second year of teaching. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and losing the thousands they had already paid. The recruiters also charged fees for arranging substandard housing and threatened teachers who complained or sought to move to a new location. The victims filed a class-action suit in federal court and were awarded $4.5 million in damages.  

Guest worker teachers in Louisiana forced into debt bondage 


The Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola University New Orleans (MSRP) conducted research in partnership with Covenant House New Orleans to identify how trafficking is affecting homeless youth in the Greater New Orleans region. Ninety-nine homeless youth at Covenant House New Orleans spoke with MSRP researchers to discuss their experiences of labor exploitation.

The report focuses on the particular risks associated with homelessness in New Orleans and on recommendations provided by the youth for how the community can improve their response to trafficking. The study provided the evidence the community needed to win a federal grant that led to the formation of the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force. 

Homeless youth in New Orleans face false promises and labor exploitation


For years, several guest workers legally traveled from Mexico to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana to conduct work at a crawfish plant. In 2012, the supplier, C.J.'s Seafood Company, was awarded a contract to supply crawfish to Walmart. Following the higher demand for product, conditions for the workers deteriorated rapidly. They lived in cramped quarters, working shifts up to 24 hours straight with few or no breaks. They were threatened and under duress within their work environment, and the owner of the company allegedly threatened the workers that he knew bad people and he knew where the workers' families lived. 

The workers partnered with the National Guestworker Alliance to start a campaign to make Walmart aware of the deplorable conditions on the crawfish plant. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the work environment and found it to be breaking many health and safety codes.They were fined more than $200,000 wage and hour violations, and another $34,000 for safety violations. Walmart ended its relationship with the seafood company a month after the campaign started. The workers were awarded more than $67,000 in back wages and were granted U Visas to stay and work in the US following their exploitation. 

Exploitative labor in a Louisiana crawfish plant


Labor trafficking happens anywhere that jobs and work happen. This includes rural, suburban, and urban contexts. You can click each of the sections to learn more about specific industries' connections to trafficking. 


Anyone can experience human trafficking. However, vulnerabilities can make a person more likely to experience labor trafficking. Click the vulnerability to learn more about how that factor can influence victimization.  


Are you seeking more in-depth information on labor trafficking? The Task Force has a Labor Trafficking 101 training that it can bring to your workplace, community group, or other gatherings. Check out our Training page to learn more about requesting a trainer. 

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