As we wrap up a very eventful Trafficking Awareness Month in Connecticut, it is important to recognize the totality of trafficking in our state. Although rarely talked about, there is another type of trafficking that takes place in Connecticut–Labor Trafficking. While sex trafficking is reported with greater frequency to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, calls regarding labor trafficking are also made. In 2016, the National Hotline received calls from Connecticut to report labor trafficking in the following venues/industries; traveling sales crews, health and beauty services, and forestry/reforestation.
Admittedly, the state’s Trafficking in Persons Council has barely scratched the surface of labor trafficking in our state. This is due in large part to the breadth of the issue, limited resources, and the covert nature of labor trafficking. With that said, the Council has had a handful of presentations on labor trafficking, particularly in regards to domestic workers, traveling magazine sales crews, and nail salons.
In recent years, because of the work of the Brazilian Immigrant Center, National Domestic Worker Alliance, and support of lawmakers, domestic workers in Connecticut have made small strides toward greater labor protections and rights, but there is still a long way to go to ensure that victims of labor trafficking in individual’s homes have access to services and ways to obtain help. Another area of labor trafficking that we know much about but have done little to address is found in the nail salon industry.
While not all nail salons commit labor trafficking, labor trafficking is taking place at some nail salons in Connecticut. In 2015, the Trafficking in Persons Council heard from the state’s Department of Labor about a one day investigation of nail salons which resulted in a 98% failure rate. Salon violations included workers being paid below minimum wage, numerous unregistered employees, overtime without pay, and indentured servitude. Once the legislative session began in 2016, a state lawmaker shared a constituent’s concern with the nail salon in their town. This constituent was a nail salon owner herself, for 30 years, who recently had truck drivers coming into her salon asking to pay for sex. She explained that a new nail salon had opened near the highway and apparently some truck drivers were paying for sex there.
With all of this information known, the Trafficking in Persons Council advocated for greater oversight of the nail salon industry in Connecticut during the 2016 legislative session. Connecticut is actually the only state in the Country that doesn’t license nail technicians. The legislature passed a measure to create a working group to study the issue, but never appointed any members to that group, and the report that was statutorily required of that group was subsequently not completed by the deadline of December 2016.
The reality is, those profiting from others exploitation want to keep it that way and because these victims are exploited, it’s hard for them to come forward. Also, in the case of labor trafficking at nail salons, there are language barriers to contend with. The Trafficking in Persons Council will continue to study labor trafficking in Connecticut and work to bring greater attention to the issue. But, in order to effectively address labor trafficking–and sex trafficking for that matter, we need more people committed to challenging the industries and practices that allow it to take place and thrive.
January may have been Trafficking Awareness Month, but my hope is that we can continue to raise awareness about all forms of human trafficking throughout the year!