LOS ANGELES —
The International Labor Organization says more than 20 million people are subject to forced labor, working on farms, in factories, or as domestic helpers. Those who are fighting human trafficking say it is a problem in both the developing world and industrial countries, including the United States.
Stories of modern-day bondage are in the headlines. Sixty women and girls held captive in New Delhi brothels were rescued by Indian police last year. And authorities say millions of Indian children are forced to work.
In June, police freed hundreds of workers held captive at a tomato farm in Mexico. The workers say they were not paid the promised wages.
Last month in Los Angeles, authorities announced a settlement with Del Monte Fresh Produce, and the ongoing prosecution of a labor supplier and another grower. Other growers remain in settlement talks.
Thiem Chayadit was one of 150 workers from Thailand employed on farms in Hawaii who will share in the $1.2 million Del Monte settlement, outlined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It is good news for Chaiyajit, who borrowed more than $20,000 to pay traffickers to come to America. He says he was not paid for his work in Hawaii.
He says he was very frustrated because he did not know where to find the money to pay off the debt in Thailand.
Commission regional attorney Anna Park says the legal action is part of a wider effort by the U.S. government to end forced labor, in this case using laws against discrimination because of national origin.
“Often times you hear stories about people escaping from their employment. You do not really hear those terms in normal employment discrimination cases," said Park.
At All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, trafficking survivor Ima Matul describes her ordeal as a domestic servant after she was recruited in Indonesia.
“Who does not want to come to the United States? They promised me $150 a month and a day off, and I do not have to pay any fee for my flight, visa, passport," said Matul.
But for three years, she was forced to work seven days a week, abused and not paid. Ima spoke little English when she arrived in the United States, but finally learned enough to write a note to a neighbor, who helped her escape.
“I still remember exactly how it was and how it was when I was escaping," she said.
She now works for the non-profit Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, which helped her create a new life and helps others trapped in labor bondage.
Church member Aubin Wilson says she invited Ima to speak to the congregation's women to publicize a hidden problem.
“And to create awareness and to raise monies and pass legislation that stops this trafficking in its tracks," said Wilson.
Catherine Chen works in Washington, DC for Humanity United, a non-profit group that has partnered
with the U.S. government to find new ways to do that, and help the victims.
“One of the most urgent things that survivors need is access to safe housing, access to basic legal assistance, mental health care, medical care. Some of even the basic things like toothbrushes and soap, are things that survivors often do not have when they get out of their situations," said Chen.
She says human trafficking works through a global supply chain and that law enforcement, government and social agencies need to work together to address the problem.