ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT FORUM: Financial Crisis and Human Trafficking

By Juhu Thukral*

Over the past eighteen months, as the global economic crisis has deepened, families have been finding themselves desperate for some level of financial stability. People feel a sinking sensation as they wonder how they are going to stay afloat, and eventually move forward, in this global economy. Fortunately, programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and many other forms of public investment are required to uphold necessary obligations under civil rights laws that help to promote an economic recovery investing in all Americans. However, the reality is that many of the jobs saved or created by the stimulus package will be those from traditional labor sectors, like construction and education. Its impact on workers in the informal economy, such as domestic workers, sex workers, and agricultural laborers, remains to be seen, and may never be properly measured.

Both within the U.S. and abroad, anti-trafficking advocates have been paying attention to the impact of the global economic crisis on workers in the informal economy. Even in the best of times, these are the workers who are most vulnerable to the type of coercion that defines the crime of human trafficking. In fact, the 2009 Trafficking in Persons report, issued by the U.S. State Department, includes a special section on the current financial crisis and human trafficking.

Given the strong economic squeeze on all sides—on low-wage and informal workers and on their employers and clients—the potential for exploitation to cross the line into coercion is greatly enhanced. And the low level of funding for the services like counseling and case management that are essential for people subjected to trafficking and coercion makes it all the more important that available funds properly address the needs of trafficked persons.

This means finding practical solutions that will work over time to address the root causes of human trafficking. Critical components to real solutions involve holding our government accountable for civil rights obligations that extend to public investments like the economic recovery. This includes requiring use of an Opportunity Impact Statement that takes into account the resource needs of groups who are particularly vulnerable while planning where funding will go; using those funds, and monies available through anti-trafficking and social service streams of funding, to create living-wage jobs and training that promote necessary skills for a global economy; training law enforcement and communities to recognize human trafficking for what it is; enforcing labor laws regardless of immigration status; and committing to immigration reform policies that actually work and encourage safe methods of migration and include all workers in the American dream. We can and should develop America’s place in the global economy in a way that moves us all forward, and protects our most vulnerable workers.

*Juhu Thukral is a founding Steering Committee member of the NY Anti-Trafficking Network. She is also the Director of Law and Advocacy of The Opportunity Agenda.

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