202 – The Role of the Department of Labor in Combating Human Trafficking

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by another partner, Paul Chang, to discuss Labor Trafficking. Paul is the Western Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator for the US Department of Labor in the Wage and Hour Division. Together, they discuss the nuances of labor trafficking and how DOL partnerships can help better equip your community!

Key Points

  • The Wage and Hour Division specializes in distinguishing conditions and patterns between labor exploitation and labor trafficking.
  • Labor exploitation is when somebody is not getting what they’re owed, but when there are signs of force, fraud, or coercion involved it becomes a labor trafficking case.
  • Fine tune labor trafficking training in your own community with the help of DOL partners in your region!


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 202, The Role of the Department of Labor in Combating Human Trafficking.  

Production Credits [00:00:11] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.  

Dave [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.  

Sandie [00:00:37] And my name is Sandie Morgan.  

Dave [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be voice, and make difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, as we talk about often on the show, there is such an important role to play of partners across all sectors: the private sector, nonprofits, schools and universities which of course is big part of our work as well, and then of course- government agencies. And today perspective from one of the most important partners in U.S. government in combating trafficking and I’m so excited for our guest today.  

Sandie [00:01:13] Me too. We’ve been trying to set this up for long time so it’s exciting.  

Dave [00:01:18] We are glad to welcome to the show today, Paul Chang. He is the Western Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Wage and Hour Division and he’s going to be joining us to share some of the perspectives from the Department of Labor and work against human trafficking. Paul, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.  

Paul [00:01:40] Dave, thank you. And Sandie, thank you for having me.  

Sandie [00:01:42] Well, tell us what is included in the western region.  

Paul [00:01:46] The western region encompasses eight states and its the territories from Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, as well as Guam and Saipan.  

Sandie [00:01:59] Okay, so you have pretty broad job title.  

Paul [00:02:03] It is and it’s new position that was created back in 2017 and I’m just very thankful to be doing this type of work.  

Sandie [00:02:12] And I just want our listeners to know that we’ve known each other for more than a decade working together on the Orange County human trafficking task force. And so, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has always had an important role to play in combating human trafficking. But what people often don’t understand is the difference in their vantage point and the resources that they bring to the table. So why don’t you start by kind of explaining civil enforcement as your position in combating human trafficking?  

Paul [00:02:51] Back when we were working together in Orange County, I was an assistant district director back then. We worked together on many enforcement cases together that we don’t necessarily enforce any criminal law, but not all cases rise to the level of criminal prosecution but where exploitation of workers carries a lot of conditions that may cross over. So, in cases where it doesn’t cross over, the civil enforcement side does a great job remedying many of these cases where vulnerable workers are mistreated.  

Sandie [00:03:27] So when you talk about a remedy, give us some examples of what a remedy is. When I hear the word remedy, I think about my grandma making lemon and honey for me to drink when I have a cough.  

Paul [00:03:40] Well some of the civil remedies include looking for back wages for people who had their rights violated and, in many cases, those are the remedies that victims are seeking rather than putting somebody in jail. They just want what is rightfully due to them. And this is where the Department of Labor, wage and hour division, comes in and resolve a case administratively. And in most cases, we don’t need to take these cases to court and we could have a quick resolution to the case.  

Sandie [00:04:11] Then it doesn’t show up in the third P, the prosecution, because there is no prosecution.  

Paul [00:04:17] Exactly and in many cases, these are exploitation of workers. And the remedy may not call for a criminal outcome whereas a civil outcome would be more appropriate.  

Sandie [00:04:30] So if we’re looking at the role of the Department of Labor then you probably have a more refined victim-centered approach than most other organizations involved in fighting from the government side.  

Paul [00:04:48] Yeah, we work with our partners but in cases, we always consider the complainant and the victim side first and that means we would help anyone regardless of their immigration status to make sure that they are taken care of.  

Sandie [00:05:03] So this might be good point for us to clarify the distinction between labor exploitation and labor trafficking.  

Paul [00:05:12] Labor exploitation in many cases are times when somebody who are just not getting what they’re owed, there are no elements of force, fraud, or coercion involved. In cases where detection of force, fraud, or coercion becomes apparent. We often see that in different types of cases. Then we will move that forward to our criminal partners to look at. So, in many cases labor exploitation you’ll find both action and purpose, but for the means for human trafficking may not necessarily be there.  

Sandie [00:05:46] So you mentioned criminal partners so how do you partner with your law enforcement colleagues.  

Paul [00:05:54] We have law enforcement colleagues that we can refer these cases to, whether it be our internal office of inspector general’s office at the Department of Labor, it could be the FBI, or any other criminal agency such as our state and local partners. But back in the Orange County Task Force, we had great relationships with both our local as well as state-level law enforcement agencies.  

Sandie [00:06:18] And think one of the things people often don’t know is that you can actually be part of certifying for Visa applications and Visa applications, am right?  

Paul [00:06:32] That is correct. The Wage and Hour Division certify the law enforcement supplement of the U and T Visa applications when certain conditions are met. So, we do our own interviews when cases are brought to our attention. We will in most cases look at it and process them accordingly.  

Paul [00:06:49] So when you work with task forces of course then talking about calculating restitution back, wages are part of that, but then you also have a role in actually detecting potential cases, but your role is different. Can you clarify that a little bit?  

Paul [00:07:09] Right. My role, in particular, is to coordinate these types of investigations since we are inherently a civil law enforcement agency. And in many cases human trafficking is inherently criminal in nature, so we need to have a firewall between the civil and criminal side of the agencies. And I play a role in terms of both the referral the coordinating but also training both our internal investigators but also our external partners in how to detect but also recognize how to understand what wage and hour does.  

Sandie [00:07:43] So to make it just little easier to understand. Let me talk about case that studied, heard presentations on it from the Department of Labor, and it is often just called the Ohio Egg Ranch Case. You remember that one?  

Paul [00:08:02] Yes, I do. It’s a good case to illustrate how human trafficking networks operate internationally.  

Sandie [00:08:09] So in this particular case, the recruitment and transport. Can you give me kind of an understanding of how that happened?  

Paul [00:08:19] So the recruiters would charge victims, oftentimes large amounts of money that they cannot pay. And they’re mostly recruited from the poorest areas of Central America. And they are brought to the United States and are then sent to various companies to work off that debt.  

Sandie [00:08:40] So they start off by recruiting them and promising to pay all of their smuggling and travel expenses and they’ll pay them back. So that then becomes fraud, right?  

Paul [00:08:51] That’s correct. And they would promise them, in this case, they would go to Disneyland and then and have an education obviously that would never happen. But in this case actually, the minors would be beaten and mistreated and forced and said that they or their family would be killed if they go to authorities.  

Sandie [00:09:10] Well and the fact that there were minors involved is what really attracted me to this case because in the recruitment stage, unaccompanied minors were told to seek asylum. And you know we’ve worked with lot of unaccompanied refugee minors here in California for more than decade in the anti-trafficking work of the task force.  

Paul [00:09:33] Yes, our partners also have the roles in detecting these issues. But Wage and Hour has a unique vantage point where we do this as our normal course of our investigation so we can detect these types of exploitations on a much more regular basis. And Wage and Hour Division then can recommend these types of investigations to other partners.  

Sandie [00:09:56] And that is really pivotal for identifying minor victims because in sex trafficking if the victim is a minor, we don’t have to prove anything but in labor trafficking and the victim is a minor it’s much more complicated.  

Paul [00:10:18] That’s correct. And in these cases, again this is where wage and hour doesn’t enforce the forced labor or trafficking in persons laws. We do enforce FLSA, and FLSA in itself has civil remedies for child labor violations but in cases like this, these civil remedies may not be appropriate. We will make the necessary referrals to our partners.  

Sandie [00:10:44] Okay. So, you have the ability to make those distinctions that maybe a line officer at a police department isn’t going to see.  

Paul [00:10:55] That’s correct. And think Wage and Hour Division and our investigators have that unique training that allows us to understand the issues of these distinctions. What is civil mistreatment or labor exploitation versus what is criminal matter that is considered human trafficking or human trafficking conditions?  

Sandie [00:11:17] So the second part of this case study Stage is destination, and how did that part work?  

Paul [00:11:24] In this case, they were brought to place somebody would take them from the custody of HHS or ORR when person let’s say seeks asylum they’re processed by CBP and then HHS or ORR process and release them to the custody of their family members, in this case, the traffickers are pretending to be family.  

Sandie [00:11:46] Okay. So especially in the case of the minor, you’re looking for family member to place them with and somebody says, “oh I’m Uncle George, and so we’ll take him” but it’s not really Uncle George. And this is something that think lot of people really don’t quite understand about how these kids end up being in places where they are literally slaves working with very little food, substandard housing, all of the things that we talk about in human trafficking all the time but they’re kind of invisible because they look like they’re just work hands. In this case at an egg ranch.  

Paul [00:12:29] Right. And there’s nothing inherently wrong or illegal about working in farm. And there’s obviously no way to distinguish if somebody is working as slave versus somebody who is just an average worker because in many cases outside of the force, fraud, or coercion just on the surface it’s very difficult to detect without somebody who is more keen to see that. And think this is where wage and hour on regular basis can distinguish these conditions and patterns.  

Sandie [00:13:00] In this particular case we do know that they were charged to live, and the conditions weren’t good and then they were charged in place of the job. So, we did see a lot of fraud in that.  

Paul [00:13:14] Exactly. Wage and Hour does a lot of detection work and some of the key elements of our work are to see what doesn’t make sense. And some of the key indicators are unsafe working conditions, housing conditions, many of them especially in agriculture live in deplorable conditions in isolated areas that they cannot leave. So, these are the things that are red flags that our investigators may encounter. And this is where we make the necessary referrals as a result of that.  

Sandie [00:13:43] And those are really hard things to uncover and I think that that really contributes to the communitybased response to labor trafficking being a little bit subdued compared to the community response to sex trafficking. But can we improve how our community is aware and understands labor trafficking by using maybe lists of these indicators like you just mentioned that look differently. I guess what I’m trying to say is we probably in community education are not giving a really strong list of indicators for people to be able to know when to report labor trafficking.  

Paul [00:14:37] And sometimes the indicators are not going to be so apparent if you are in public. They may be more apparent if let’s say you work within the industry. Let’s say for example you may be a monitor within the company, or you may work at the company and you see cases that just doesn’t make any sense. In cases where you see farm labor contractors bringing in their crew on a regular basis and places that just are falling apart and housing them in deplorable conditions that as the industry employee you may start to ask more questions and these are some of the things where we obviously work together with our industry partners to provide education to help them understand what are some of the conditions out there and what they can do to address them.  

Sandie [00:15:21] Would other things like low bids on contract jobs be an indicator that you should take second look?  

Paul [00:15:29] Definitely. Pricing is an extremely good indicator. Let’s say for example rarely do we have vertically integrated manufacturing process anymore. Many industries contract out lot of their work and sometimes the lowest bid lowball bidders get the bids, but those raises more questions is how these contractors are able to do this for that price. And oftentimes there is no way for these people to properly do this type of work for the price given.  

Sandie [00:16:03] So some of the industries that we should be targeting to do training would be ranch workers, agricultural companies.  

Paul [00:16:15] Yeah anything that may contract out but also if you look at restaurants, we see trafficking conditions all over the map and the difficulty of standardizing this is that each industry has their own different unique way of doing things. Take for example let’s say a residential care facility for the elderly may operate differently from a buffet and that may operate differently than a farm which makes detecting and standardizing difficult.  

Sandie [00:16:47] So we need to have industry-specific training applications on labor trafficking and regionally we could begin to develop that based on if you live in Orange County, you’re probably not going to do training for agricultural workers but you are going to do training for hotel workers.  

Paul [00:17:08] That’s correct. And you know this is where the Wage and Hour Division and our OIG partners participate in all the antihuman trafficking teams that are funded by DOJ, BJA, and OPC. But also, we always participate in all of these task forces both informal as well as formal collaborations.  

Sandie [00:17:28] So think the takeaway that want because we have lot of non-profit leaders that listen to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast and just want to challenge them to begin to understand the potential in working with our DOL partners and the fine nuances that you bring to the table that we are beginning to access those resources, reach out to DOL in your region- if you’re in the West region you reach out to Paul Chang, and find out how you can begin to fine-tune labor trafficking training in your own community because that’s where we’re going to find things when we start looking in our own backyard.  

Paul [00:18:18] Thank you. And that is where think you and have worked for decades on this issue and we want to make sure that we make that distinction, we want to work with both our law enforcement partners but also our community leaders to come and talk to us. And definitely welcome any calls, my number is 714-418-8620. And you can also reach me at Chang.Paul@dol.gov 

Sandie [00:18:46] And we will put all of that on our show notes so people can access that, and we’ll send them to the DOL web page. There is so much more we can do to fight labor trafficking and we’re just scratching the surface. And Paul, thank you so much for being willing to come on the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.  

Paul [00:19:11] Thank you so much, Sandie.  

Dave [00:19:13] Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Sandie. Just another example of just what wonderful partners we have within government and that we’re all working together on this complex issue. And we are inviting you to take the first step as well today. One of those first steps may be to accept Paul’s invitation to reach out to him or to reach out to us with questions, a great way to do that is to go over to feedback@endinghumantrafficking.org if you’d like to reach out to us directly. Also, a wonderful resource is the Web site we have set up with all of the past episodes at endinghumantrafficking.org. When you’re on that Web site, download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. It’s completely free, it’ll give you the five critical things that Sandie and the Global Center for Women and Justice have identified that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to that right now by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And as always thank you so much for listening and for your partnership with us as part of our listening community. And Sandie I will see you again in two weeks for our next conversation.  

Sandie [00:20:24] Thanks, Dave.  

Dave [00:20:25] Take care, everybody.  

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