Slavery: A Modern-Day Phenomenon

If you pay attention to social media in the weeks leading up to the largest sports event in America, you’ll see them. Articles. Blog posts. Statistics. In between the witty ads and football banter, there’s a darker reality lurking beneath the surface: the reality of human trafficking.

Sound familiar?

What a few decades ago was an obscure term has now entered into the public consciousness. And while this is a step in the right direction, general awareness is only scratching the surface.

Found in Every Industry

Experts estimate that the total number of people in slavery today is greater than in all previous periods of human history combined. According to the U.S. State Department, that amounts to nearly 50 million people enslaved worldwide. All this generates more than $150 billion in profit for the individuals and organizations who exploit them.

While we understand that it still exists, however, many Americans assume that modern-day slavery is something that happens somewhere else, to people in another time zone. Slavery is a major international issue, true, but it shows up a lot closer to home as well.

In 2016 there were 7,500 cases of human trafficking reported in the U.S. Although the sex trade is the practice most often associated with this evil, slavery is found in a multitude of industries, including mining, farming, technology, beauty salons, massage parlors, manufacturing, textiles, and the private sector.

How it Works

A teenager running from a difficult home situation meets an older man at the mall. He is charming, polite, buys her a small gift, and arranges to meet her again.

An international broker contacts a family with an offer of work in the U.S., all expenses paid. Desperate for work, a family hands their passports over to the broker.

A trafficker posing as a legitimate business-person posts a job offer online, including a free plane ticket to Florida. A young woman looking for a fresh start accepts the job and heads across the country.

These are just three scenarios traffickers may use to exploit and entrap their targets. Each begins a cycle of debt, abuse, and desperation. After many weeks, the teenager begins to view the charming stranger as her boyfriend, her protector, even her rescuer from her rough home life. This makes it extremely difficult for her to refuse when he asks her to start returning the favor, usually through sex work. The family seeking a better life finds themselves trapped in a forced labor ring with no way out; the broker has their paperwork and may even threaten to turn them over to the authorities if they try to escape. The young woman who thought she was traveling to Florida for a job in IT finds work of a much different kind waiting for her when she gets off the plane.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Modern-day slavery manifests in many forms within the U.S., and not always in the places you expect. Labor exploitation may occur in private residences. Once workers’ travel documents are confiscated, they may be forced to perform domestic housekeeping tasks for up to 18 hours a day. Many non-English speakers may be exploited in the hospitality, hotel, and health and beauty industries as well. Included in these are illicit massage and nail salons. Lesser known but no less tragic is trafficking for traveling sales crews, peddling and begging, and carnival work.

Few industries, in fact, remain completely untouched by the evils of modern-day slavery. It’s one reason it is so important to stay informed about the reality of these issues. No matter what profession you’re in, chances are you may one day find yourself on the front lines in the fight against slavery.


Want to know more? In preparation for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January,  Elite Learning will be taking an in-depth look at these issues. Get resources and tips that will arm you with the knowledge you need to make a difference in your profession.

Research and article courtesy of Judith Munson.

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