296 – Understanding and Pursuing Labor Trafficking Cases Collaboratively, with Derek Marsh

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Dr. Sandie Morgan is joined by Derek Marsh, the Associate Director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University. The two discuss the importance of shedding light on labor trafficking as well as understanding labor trafficking cases collaboratively.

Derek Marsh

Derek Marsh is the Associate Director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University, working alongside Dr. Sandie Morgan. He worked for the Westminster Police Department for over 26 years but retired from law enforcement with the rank of Deputy Chief. Derek Marsh helped start the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force and served as the co-chair from 2004-2012. He also helped develop and teach courses in human trafficking across the state of California and testified for Congress twice as an expert witness regarding local law enforcement issues in human trafficking. Derek Marsh currently teaches undergraduate courses in Human Trafficking at Vanguard University of Southern California and is working with the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Key Points

  • The same approach and attention given to sex trafficking should be used when approaching labor trafficking as both are crimes.
  • While labor trafficking cases have decreased, collaboration when pursuing cases gives victims to opportunity to be liberated and ensures those who have committed the crime are held accountable.
  • Investigating and identifying labor trafficking is difficult without collaboration because of its tendency to involve foreign nationals.
  • It’s important to have knowledge of the signs of labor trafficking to keep individuals who could possible be in a labor trafficking situation from being exploited.


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Sandra Morgan 0:00
You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode 296, Understanding and Pursuing Labor Trafficking Cases Collaboratively, with Derek Marsh.

Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast here at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice in Orange County, California. This is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Derek, it’s so nice to have you back on the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. Listeners, you all remember, Derek Marsh is the Associate Director of the Global Center for Women and Justice. But he has a long history in combating human trafficking. He’s the co-founder of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. He’s been a fellow with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, training on labor trafficking across our nation, and the list goes on. We’ll have a link to his bio in the show notes but welcome back, Derek.

Derek Marsh 1:30
Thank you, Sandie. Thanks for having me back.

Sandra Morgan 1:32
So you just recently wrote an article for a peer reviewed journal. And I was so impressed, first of all, for those of you who know what it takes to publish an article in a peer reviewed journal. That just deserves a pause, and some kudos to you for that kind of work. So thank you for doing that.

Derek Marsh 1:57
Well, I have you to thank obviously. The folks at Societies, where the article is being published, were super patient and super understanding with me as I managed to write through COVID and through one of my parents deaths. So I really appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding through getting this article together.

Sandra Morgan 2:15
Thanks, Derek. So let’s talk about what this article is about, because you probably were a little challenged to take your broad experience and condense it into a journal article, because you’ve been doing this work for way longer than a decade. And when we think about the stats that we see nationally, and globally, on human trafficking, the stats predominantly reflect investigations on sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is harder to investigate, and it takes longer to prosecute a case. So there are some significant challenges in doing that. Instead of writing an article about all the problems, you actually were very proactive in this article in order to demonstrate that there are ways we can make progress. So let’s start off with what do you think people will take away from reading this article?

Derek Marsh 3:32
Well, I hope, number one, that they take away that labor trafficking isn’t a crime that can be easily marginalized just because sex trafficking is such an egregious crime. I think there needs to be a balanced approach to pursuing it across the board. If you’re going to be doing sex trafficking or pursuing or investigating sex trafficking, then I think we should be also just as focused on pursuing, investigating, prosecuting labor trafficking. Number two, like you mentioned, the amount of labor trafficking cases has dropped dramatically in the last 12-13 years. In the 2010 TIP Report, you had about 50% of the cases were labor trafficking cases, whereas now, around 3% of the cases are labor trafficking cases. I appreciate that, and I understand that there’s logistics to it and I didn’t focus on that in the article, really, because I wanted to be more positive. But the idea here is, I think, with better collaborations, with being more strategic in your collaborative partner selection, and maintenance and sustaining them, I think that we can give and provide labor trafficking victims the chance to be liberated from their situations, but also to pursue criminal and civil accountability measures for those who are doing those types of crimes.

Sandra Morgan 4:47
And another piece, and it’s in the title of the article, you really underline the necessity of collaboration. Can you speak to that for just a brief moment?

Derek Marsh 4:58
Sure. I think that, for the most part, collaboration is something that’s always been talked about. It’s part of the enhanced collaborative model for the federal grants, to begin with. We’re all used to having our law enforcement partners collaborating and meeting with and partnering with our non government organizations, service providers, and all the services they can sub out or are part of that whole service suite of of possibilities and resources for our trafficking survivors. However, I don’t always think that labor trafficking gets the same balance, if you will, of attention. And I think that, partly because the collaborations and partnerships we develop through a focus on sex trafficking, don’t necessarily assist us when we’re pursuing labor trafficking. So I think we have to be more strategic in our selections, to have a better chance of being more successful labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions. That’s what we talked about here, is the idea that while we want as many people to participate as they can, we want them to take that passion and use it positively. I think that when you’re looking at labor trafficking, you have to be very strict, very focused on how you do it, how you get your partnerships together, and who you maintain them with because otherwise, you’re not going to be able to get the information, the actual intelligence to be able to put together viable labor trafficking investigations.

Sandra Morgan 6:22
And you start on clarifying around those investigations, who needs to be at the table and you emphasize that you need multi jurisdictional, multi disciplinary agencies formed into task forces committing to serving labor trafficking victims and dismantling labor trafficking criminal enterprises. So this even sounds different than a Sex Trafficking Task Force. What will be the steps that we have to do to organise for that to happen and along those lines, does that mean we need to have different task forces?

Derek Marsh 7:12
I think that you could do that for sure. I think that historically, when I was going around as a visiting fellow, and thank you for the BJA for allowing me to be a visiting fellow for the three years I was through 2015 through 2018 to Washington, DC, it really opened my eyes to a lot of issues, and challenges with regard to labor trafficking. Probably number one is that when you’re pursuing sex trafficking investigations, they can be quick one off type of investigations, that can be done relatively quickly. They don’t require an extensive collaborative network to facilitate the investigation or prosecution, whereas with labor trafficking cases, it became very readily apparent that you just can’t look on an ad, or will drive down the street and see people being violated through labor trafficking, or even labor exploitation for that matter. So you need a different mindset walking in the door. So when I was at BJA, we talked about the option of having two different grants, the idea of having a labor trafficking grant, and the idea of having a sex trafficking grant. Now, they decided in the end not to do that and that’s all good. That’s a perfectly rational decision but I would say that within the organization, you definitely need to dedicate personnel and you definitely have to have executive leadership support for pursuing these investigations because they are more complex, they take more time, they have a tendency to involve foreign nationals and all of those issues can be problematic when it comes to engaging local law enforcement.

Sandra Morgan 8:42
Okay, so now we’re going to dive into some of those complex issues around investigating labor trafficking that are different, and that require perhaps more resources and more partners. So let’s take a look at a case study in the paper. The Trillium Egg Farm Case. Derek, can you kind of lay it out using that story?

Derek Marsh 9:11
Well, sure. So basically, in the Trillium Egg Farm Case, and this is something that’s, for the most part, pretty well known in the trafficking community. 10,000 foot view. We have foreign nationals who were brought into the country, some are juveniles, some are adult, but they’re met at the border or they’re contacted through the border with people who claim to be relatives who really aren’t. Then they’re transported to Ohio, that’s where the Trillium Egg Farm is at, and they’re put in substandard housing, basically trailers, they’re almost abandoned trailers. They have very thin walls, if any, they have no running water, no hygiene issues, barely any access to food. And these people are told they’ve got to work 12-14-16 hour days at the Trillium egg farm, harvesting eggs, etc. So in this case, the way they were found out was one of the victims actually contacted someone, got hold of the phone, which most of them didn’t have access to before. Someone got ahold of phone, contacted a relative in Florida, who then reported the situation to a government agency in Florida, who bounced it up to Washington, DC, and then it bounced back to Ohio, where they were able to start following up on the issue. Then once you get that engaged, you have people, not just from federal prosecutors and federal law enforcement, HSI, etc., but you have local law enforcement engaged, you have county law enforcement engaged, and you have a variety of NGOs who are going to be providing services for these folks. That includes language barriers that they have to go across, cultural barriers they have to go across, and ways that they can shelter and care for these folks more than just a couple of days. So those all become challenges that are unique, in some ways to labor trafficking over sex trafficking. You can’t figure that out on the fly normally, you normally have to have these NGOs, these shelter providers, these language interpreters, these collaborations already in place, so that you don’t run behind when you’re actually going to the location, doing investigation, finding these people who are being exploited/trafficked. So having read a lot when I first started pursuing any kind of trafficking investigation at all, because in 2004, when I started, it was like a wide open plateau that no one really knew a lot about, at least in my world, lot and locally, so I did a lot of reading. An article that came up in 2013 was from Dr. Ritchken, who actually is a foreign author, but provided a five part model saying these are places that people have to interact with the government or pseudo government agencies, where they have to surface, if you will, from just hiding behind borders are hiding behind property lines, or just basically hiding behind cultural and language barriers. These five areas are areas, I think, would also work for sex trafficking as well but law enforcement seems to focus more on labor trafficking, and I agree. So in that world, what happened is that these five areas included the idea of getting identity or identity paperwork, the idea of border crossing or border entry, the idea of ‘how are you documenting your employment, if it’s documented at all?’, obviously, where people are housed, the location where they’re housed, who’s paying for that, how that’s being done, who inspects those types of locations? And finally, obviously, following the money, those financial flows, that go, and the process to track, who’s getting paid, how they’re getting paid, are there any kind of payments be made at all, and if so, to what degree and who holds the money and yada, yada, yada? I say that, not to minimize it, but to say that there’s so many different groups that are involved in all of these different aspects of what doctors call the ‘barrier bottle’, that each of those is a potential area where people who are trained and aware and have the possibility of perceiving potential indicators of trafficking have a chance of identifying our victims. Basically, an idea or place where they surface and become more recognizable than they do when they’re stuck in a field, or what they do when they’re stuck just going warehouse to warehouse and cleaning or strip mall to strip mall and cleaning, or strip mall to strip mall doing massages, or whatever the case may be for your labor trafficking.

Sandra Morgan 13:20
So these barriers are barriers to identifying the victims to investigating the crime. Is that correct?

Derek Marsh 13:29
I think it’s more like a border, it’s maybe sometimes a better way to look at it. It’s a border to have to cross and actually interact with other people other than the trafficker or themselves. So, if you get an ID card, you just can’t get an ID card from your trafficker. Maybe you can, and be false. But if you’re trying to pretend that this is any kind of legitimate enterprise, or you’re trying to get a passport, or you’re trying to get a visa, then a lot of times there has to be some interaction with government agencies to get at least the template for which you’re producing your fake IDs. That’s an area where potentially these people are rising to the top, and they could potentially identify as being exploited or moving towards a trafficking situation. Or, the idea of crossing a border. A lot of our trafficking victims when it comes to labor have been historically foreign nationals and as a result, they’ve got to get here via plane, they’ve got to get here on foot, they’ve got to get here crossing the border in a train or automobile. You name it right, on a boat. So, all of those places have border crossing, TSA type of situations where you have to identify yourself and move across. Those are areas, or those are moments, when people could potentially be identified. So the idea here is that as a Labor Trafficking Task Force, you go and you partner and you collaborate with those agencies that are in charge of these border crossings, these barriers that they have to go through, whether it’s gonna be housing, whatever financial flows. Those are the people you include when you’re doing an investigation because they can provide potential information that can give you leads and actual Intel, that can move you forward in a potential labor trafficking investigation and prosecution.

Sandra Morgan 15:14
And it doesn’t seem, from my perspective, that most traditional task forces, at least here on the west coast where I’ve had experience, include airline, transportation, agencies, travel, even Border and Customs, folks, so how do we partner with them? When they’re at a different place?

Derek Marsh 15:40
Well, I think they may be in a different place in the sense of where they’re at in understanding labor trafficking, or where they’re at in enforcing labor trafficking. But all we need to do is keep their eyes open and report to us if they see something that’s that’s suspicious. The whole idea of ‘See Something, Say Something’. It’s on a different level if you’re collaborating with people, you get to know them and you can’t make that up at the time of the incident. I mean, obviously, you can get a report and there have been many cases where different agencies are able to identify a potential trafficking victim, and it pans out whether they contact national trafficking hotline, or they’re able to contact a local law enforcement or federal law enforcement or local law enforcement representative. Sometimes as they work out, they work out great. Other times, you can get lucky with maybe force criminality, through labor trafficking, and then they’re able to be identified that way.

Sandra Morgan 16:26
Wait, wait, you’re telling me forced criminality? What is that?

Derek Marsh 16:31
So forced criminality, is when trafficking victims are being forced to commit crimes, as part of the perpetuation of the labor trafficking, or as an incidental part of the trafficking. There have been cases where people haven’t been given enough food during their labor trafficking, but they’ve been allowed out to pick up food from a market. But because they can’t have money, then they end up doing petty theft, they end up doing shoplifting, things like that. As a result of that we call that force criminality. They didn’t choose to do it, if they had their choice, they would have paid for it. But they don’t have access to money, they don’t have access to those resources or credit. In fact, it’s been taken away from them through the traffickers and so they’re forced to criminality. Also some groups actually, as part of the labor trafficking, make them go and do theft. So I get shoplifting rings, things like that. And it also can work into actually harvesting, transporting, selling drugs which we’re finding a lot in the marijuana industry these days here in California, but also across United States and actually across the world. There are many reports of that type of forced criminality going on through being a drug mule, or actually sitting at the locations and growing the marijuana so it can be produced, harvesting it and packaging it so it can be sold in different locations.

Sandra Morgan 17:45
So I was at an event last night, and someone asked me, ‘How do we identify a labor trafficking victim?’ And their question is a great question. I think one of the reasons we understand sex trafficking as easier to investigate is because someone’s doing something that is illegal here. But for labor trafficking, someone who’s washing dishes or cleaning, an office building, it’s not illegal to do those things. So how do you know? How do you follow up to find out if they’re being forced to work or being exploited?

Derek Marsh 18:27
Honestly, it sometimes can be very, almost impossible. So your office workers that are doing cleaning, unfortunately, they’re being not paid as much or at all because of some type of debt situation they’ve found themselves in? Well, as a normal citizen, you’re probably not going to see that. It’s the people who are hiring these people to work for those buildings to clean them up or whatever, the onus falls more on them to be able to determine is this a legitimate business? Are these people being paid? Or are they undercutting all the other businesses so significantly, despite having equivalent labor forces? That’s really a tell because a lot of a business’s overhead has to do with paying personnel costs as if somehow they’re beating everyone’s prices by 30, 40%. You know, granted some people overpriced themselves and I get it, but the idea being here that they’re able to underprice themselves, because they’re not paying as much, if at all, for their labor. We could look at cases that we’ve had with Filipino nurses who have come to do elder care, or any kind of immobility care in homes are an actual institutions. The question you would ask is, why is that person around 24/7? How is it possible that they’re sleeping in a room that someone has been occupying at that point? Why are they eating the leftovers after the people who are being treated are getting their meals and they get the leftovers after that? So things like that you can see as an individual who walks in that world and goes, maybe in a medical situation, if you see someone come in, and they’re being treated for an industrial type of injury. It’s like, ‘Why weren’t they wearing a hard hat? Why weren’t they given the proper protection gear to perform those type of activities? How is it that they got hurt to begin with? Or why are they suffering from such malnutrition? Why do they look like they’re not drinking enough fresh water? Why are they looking so unkempt that their personal hygiene is so sideways?’ All of those things can lead to the conclusion that there is a potential for exploitation, if not trafficking, going on. But again, there are other people who just don’t. You’ve got to be careful how you do it. So again, having these professionals in these other partnerships, multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency groups that are familiar with those types of issues and those indicators, make the perfect partnerships.

Sandra Morgan 20:44
So you’re going to expand your collaborative task force, your collaborators for investigation, and bring in people who haven’t traditionally been around the table because we’re used to working with Homeland Security and even Department of Labor. But how many task forces have health inspectors and Equal Employment Opportunity personnel and even fire department people around the table?

Derek Marsh 21:14
I think anybody who can get in someplace legally, and they’re not there just to do your investigation, they’re there because they’re doing their job. But again, like you said, health inspectors, right? Food inspectors, seeing what’s happening in those situations. I think that anybody who who goes places that normal law enforcement would not normally care about is a potential informant or potential viewer of information that might lead to identify indicators that might lead to the conclusion of labor exploitation, or labor trafficking. Again, all of this is on a continuum, right? We’re not trying to turn people into enforcement officers, not trying to give them a badge. We’re just asking them to keep their eyes open to make sure people aren’t being exploited and or trafficked.

Sandra Morgan 21:57
So we talked about a few of the barriers in this model, identity, border entry and work. How does how they’re housed, help us identify victims?

Derek Marsh 22:11
Well, so you might have migrant workers or things like that, have to be housed on the properties where they’re working. But then again, they have requirements by law, as far as what those houses have to be like. They have to have running water, it has to be potable water available, they have to have access to food they get paid. All those things are part of their shelter requirements as being brought over here to do migrant labor work, seasonal work. So those people who inspect those locations can be viable partners, and make sure that people are being followed through with. Also, there are groups that go through and make sure people’s vaccinations are up to date. So in that case, they could be talking and they speak the language, they understand the culture, they could be getting insights as far as what’s going on. If there are any churches in the area that cater to those particular foreign national groups, then obviously, that’s a potential area where people could disclose in those areas, what’s going on. But for those others that are working in restaurants, that may be working as cleaners in the strip malls or in larger facilities, wherever, they sought the land somewhere. They have to be staying somewhere that’s not on a remote property. That means someone has to register for them to stay there. There have to to be multiple people moving in and out. So there are lots of areas where there are opportunities for people to see that activity, whether they’re actually the people renting the place, the property management, other people staying there, and seeing that something may not seem right. We used to get calls frequently at Westminster, saying ‘We have 12 people living in a one bedroom place.’ Well, that’s a red flag. That shouldn’t normally be happening. In fact, we found in multiple investigations, we did that in just restaurants and the rest of it, they would rent one bedroom apartment, have people live there eventually kicked out because they’re 10 people, 11 people living there. Then they would move to another apartment complex for a few months and they would just literally rotate where they put these folks. The idea being that they would work, go to these locations without any kind of proper paperwork, they were holding their paperwork for them, quote, unquote, and then these people would come back the next day and work their 14 hour days, and then move back to their place to do the same thing over and over again. So having those housing folks, having apartment property owners, management, being aware of what’s going on, helps us identify these issues as well. And finally, obviously, the last would be financial flows. You’ve got to follow the money, or the lack thereof. The idea that ‘are there agencies that seem to always undercut every other bit on the planet or in the area by a significant sum?’ I’m not saying that they can’t be more intelligent at how they allocate resources. I’m not trying to accuse anyone of being a little bit of a trafficking thing but again, if they’re consistently way below the average, it seems that their people aren’t being paid enough, maybe that’s a challenge. I know government work requires certain minimum wage to be paid but there’s a lot of work out there that there’s no government oversight involved.

Sandra Morgan 24:58
So these five barriers then require that victims and perpetrators directly interact with all these other agencies and that’s how you then develop what you call collaborative intelligence? I’m probably not getting that right.

Derek Marsh 25:20
Well, no, I think you’re close. I mean, the idea being here that the typical way of getting intelligence through going through the web, or having people testify against other people, that still is in play. But your initial intelligence to start the investigation that’s actionable and say, ‘Well, we really believe this situation might be some type of labor trafficking situation,’ is difficult to get, as a result of the choice of poor partnership entities. Not that people are bad partners, I don’t mean to say that all. What I’m saying is, they’re not focused on issues that relate to labor trafficking, or in areas where labor trafficking is occurring. So if you’re able to get those people who are, who have beat those different barriers, who are able to be kind of gatekeepers in those barriers, or ways that they have to interact with those potential labor trafficking victims, or labor traffickers, and they’re educated, understand what indicators are, how to see what’s going on, then we can use that information, we can use their observations as a kind of Intel, upon which we can like build potential cases, and find out what’s going on in these different areas.

Sandra Morgan 26:25
This particular section of the article is inspiring for me, because it’s opening my eyes to other agencies and disciplines where we have neglected to bring training there so that they see their interaction with possible victims, and even might reach out to local task forces. Derek, our time is almost up but I want to get to your kind of like conclusion here. Yes, these create intelligence but bottom line, we are talking about a victim centered approach. We have never wavered in our fundamental belief in upholding the rights of a victim. So can you address just as we wrap up, the challenge that we somehow have of prioritizing sex trafficking trauma over labor trafficking trauma?

Derek Marsh 27:31
So I do address this in the article, but basically, obviously, sex trafficking victimization is horrific and egregious. I never want to minimize that, nothing I say about labor trafficking is supposed to marginalize that. However, labor trafficking victims, in many ways share many of the same traumas. Frequently, they also experience being sexually assaulted as well as part of their labor trafficking experience. So the idea that one group of trauma, through sex trafficking, versus the other group of trauma and labor trafficking, has somehow been weighed to be found less worthy of pursuit or less worthy of resources being applied to it, kind of sticks in my craw a little bit. No one’s ever, I’ve had very few times when people have actually outright said, we’re going to pursue sex trafficking over labor, but I talked to one group once and the person in charge of that group said basically, ‘We have to prioritize humanity.’ His reference was to the prioritizing of sex trafficking over labor trafficking. The idea that somehow these folks aren’t part of the picture because there’s a lot of challenges that go with working with foreign nationals. Immigration is a hot button topic and people, wisely in many ways, don’t want to get in that political arena. I don’t know if there’s any way to win in there. But the reality is that regardless whether you win or not in the PC world, they’re still being trafficked, and still being exploited in the criminal world. I think we sometimes forget that and we allow these ongoing political dialogues to dictate what we prioritize, and what we advertise as being focused on. I listed a few examples in the article that show that even though it was a labor trafficking case, there were multiple issues with sexual assault, torture, kidnapping, false imprisonment, all things that we’re expected to enforce a place, above and beyond labor trafficking. I really feel that the trauma experienced by both, while both egregious, and obviously sex trafficking is it’s own unique situation and again, I’m not minimizing it or trying to marginalize it. However, I don’t feel it’s fair to minimize or marginalize the trauma that labor trafficking victims go through as well.

Sandra Morgan 29:45
There’s a lot to unpack in this and we will put a citation note in the show notes for ‘Understanding and Pursuing Labor Trafficking Cases Collaborative’ in Societies 2023 by Derek J. Marsh. We’re very excited to see what will come from this article and the opportunity to expand our understanding of collaboration. I’m encouraged and challenged by how we can begin to expand our networks to be more inclusive of less law enforcement focused agencies that victims and traffickers are engaging, so we have a better opportunity to identify, investigate, and prosecute the perpetrators. Thank you, Derek.

Derek Marsh 30:52
Thank you for having me Sandie, I appreciate it.

Sandra Morgan 30:55
So we’re inviting you to take the next step to go over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s where you can find the resources we’ve mentioned and so much more. If you want to study the issues with us, you can look at the anti human trafficking certificate program here, and either do it for tuition based credit or as a professional certificate. If you enjoy or at least learn a lot, sometimes I don’t think our topics are really very enjoyable, but if you learn a lot here at the podcast, we would love to have you become a subscriber and even become a patreon subscriber to help us keep this program going. Thank you so much, and I look forward to talking with you again in two weeks.


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