Ohio Labor Traffickers Plead Guilty
By Katie Masi
Two men have pled guilty for their role in a labor trafficking scheme that brought eight teens and two adults to the United States. The victims were promised a better life and an education. Instead they found themselves forced to work on an egg farm for twelve hours a day, six to seven days a week, in deplorable conditions for no pay.
The FBI collaborated with the local police to raid Oakridge Estates in Marion, Ohio and freed the teens and adults. According to the FBI, the traffickers withheld their paychecks and repeatedly threatened them.
The company, Trillium Farms, states the labor contractors misled them. When Trillium learned of possible trafficking on their farm, they cooperated with the authorities to rescue the victims. Two of the defendants pled guilty to labor trafficking, witness tampering, and an immigration offense. They now await approval from a federal court judge.
This case is notable for its rarity. The majority of trafficking cases prosecuted worldwide, as well as in the United States, are related to sex trafficking. Yet the majority of victims are labor trafficking victims. Of the estimated 20.9 million victims globally, 68 percent are trapped in labor slavery. There were a meager 4,443 convictions in 2014 according to the latest State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, of which just 5 percent were labor trafficking cases. The ratio is a little better in the United States—the Department of Justice (DOJ) convicted 184 perpetrators in 2014, of which 15 percent were labor trafficking cases.
The disparity is partially due to the fact that labor trafficking cases are more complex to investigate and prosecute. They take more expertise and more resources to secure a conviction. But when you compare the number of victims worldwide to the number of convictions, it’s clear that too many traffickers—especially labor traffickers—are operating with relative impunity.
Congress needs to increase the funding to the DOJ Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) so that it can increase expertise and staff to be able to handle more cases like this. Without more attorneys prosecuting these complex cases, we’ll never flip the risk-reward equation for labor traffickers. For more information on how the DOJ, law enforcement agencies, business, and NGOs can work together to dismantle the business of slavery, see our blueprint.