FN Members on CNN: Advocating for FORTE Act

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Labor trafficking is finally getting media coverage, as a recent New York Times exposé on labor trafficking in New York City nail salons outed illegal practices taking place in majority within the industry.

Freedom Network members Griselda Vega and Shandra Wowonruntu recently contributed to CNN, calling on the need for greater enforcement of current labor laws, as well as establishment of foreign labor recruitment legislation.

A lack of regulation on foreign labor recruitment has perpetuated a system of entrapment and coercion where agencies and employers reign over the lives of workers.  These workers are often threatened, blackmailed, or are receiving so little pay that they can barely afford to live, let alone to leave.

Vega recounts that according to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the United States has a Tier 1 ranking based on efforts to eradicate human trafficking.  But as she implores, this top ranking should not be seen as a success unto itself.  Instead, the country must continue to improve in its efforts to eradicate modern slavery, specifically through the support of Congress in implementation of foreign labor recruitment legislation. 

This legislation would not only prevent workers from being trafficked across the border into the United States, but also provide support for victims through economic empowerment programs, scholarship programs, and other support services.

Human trafficking survivor and activist Shandra Woworunti, right, with Victims’ Rights Representative Ted Poe and Representative Carolyn Maloney at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol last year.

The Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE) Act (HR 3344) was introduced into the last Congress to address this gap in policy, but it did not pass. The FORTE Act would deter human trafficking by increasing information access to overseas workers regarding prospective jobs, visas and other conditions of work in the United States, as well as requiring registration of foreign labor recruitment agencies at the Department of Labor, while prohibiting recruitment fees paid by workers.

Passage of the FORTE Act, and improve enforcement of human labor trafficking violations is of the utmost importance.  As the article states,

‘We should demand no less from a Tier 1 country and a leader in the global battle to end modern slavery.’

Shandra, a survivor of human trafficking and a speaker at this year’s annual Freedom Network Conference, is the founder of Mentari, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing training and economic empowerment support to victims of human trafficking. Griselda Vega is the Senior Director at the Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon, an organization that assists more than 250,000 people affected by crime and abuse each year.