The Washington State Capitol in Olympia, Washington. • Photo by cmh2315fl/Flickr

Report by Sutapa Basu and Johnna White

As the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking, Washington State is recognized nationally as a pioneer in the anti-human trafficking movement. The state’s leadership in this arena can be traced back to the work of a team of women who worked together to combat human trafficking, which they were seeing in an upfront and personal manner.

In the early 2000s, in response to reports of domestic servitude through the mail-order bride industry in the Filipino community, the University of Washington Women’s Center headed by Dr. Sutapa Basu hosted the first conference in the state to address this issue. The conference served as a catalyst for groundbreaking research and policy development.

Then in 2003, then State Representative Velma Veloria, her colleagues in the Legislature, and community of color activists such as Dr. Basu, Emma Catague, Norma Timbang and others set a historic precedent by championing House Bill 1175, which made human trafficking a crime on the state level for the first time in history. It passed into law, and since then, all 50 states have implemented similar laws.

For the past several years, the Polaris Project, an international nonprofit that works to eradicate human trafficking, has assigned Washington a perfect score for having the strongest anti-human trafficking laws in the United States. Washington is poised to further its exemplary commitment to end human trafficking through examining its own purchasing practices as well as laying groundwork for broader supply chain transparency and due diligence.

As executive director of the University of Washington Women’s Center, Dr. Basu continues to advocate for stronger state policies addressing human trafficking violations in Washington. In 2017, she and colleague, Johnna E. White, produced Human Trafficking and Supply Chains, Recommendations to Reduce Human Trafficking in Local and Global Supply Chains for the Washington state legislature which included key findings and recommendations. The following is a excerpt from that report. The report was made possible through support provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce, as required by Washington Law 2015 3rd special session c. 4 s. 36 (ESSB 6052).


Outsourcing goods and services to countries with lower labor standards than in the U.S. has traditionally been one of the ways companies decrease production costs. However, this leaves many businesses – particularly those with global supply chains – at risk of contributing to forced labor practices abroad. In addition, we have found that human trafficking is present in Washington’s local supply chains and has been reported in 18 counties within numerous industries.

Washington’s commercial landscape offers opportunities for exploitation in sectors that are both predisposed to human trafficking and contribute to the local economy including construction, manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality and food, all of which collectively generate nearly $100 billion towards the state’s GDP.

Definition of human trafficking

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines human trafficking in two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Sex trafficking is defined as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person made to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.

Similar to federal statute, Washington identifies a person guilty of human trafficking in the first degree when such person:

“recruits, harbors, transports, transfers, provides, obtains, buys, purchases, or receives by any means another person knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact, (A) that force, fraud, or coercion will be used to cause the person to engage in (i) forced labor, (ii) involuntary servitude, (iii) a sexually explicit act; or (iv) a commercial sex act, or (B) that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and is caused to engage in a sexually explicit or a commercial sex act.”,,,

On March 10, 2016, Washington broadened the law by passing Senate Bill 5342, which expands the definition to honor the true scope of labor trafficking. Of particular note, “forced labor” is now defined as all work or service (whether legal or not) that is demanded from a person under the menace of any penalty, such as threats, violence, withholding of identity documents, and illegal deduction of wages and to which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.

Globalization and labor trafficking

Our interconnected and global marketplace has intensified the flow of capital, goods and services, and the movement of people across borders, which has simultaneously fueled the human trafficking industry. Anti-human trafficking discourse has traditionally employed a supply-and-demand framework to explain the trade of human beings. Global economic policies favoring free trade such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which have greatly stimulated our world markets, have also produced unintended consequences. These policies have encouraged offshore sweatshops, forced migration of workers and a “race to the bottom mentality” by corporations, where the “demand for cheap goods drives the supply of cheap labor.”

Statistics on labor trafficking

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), approximately 21 million children, women, and men are victims of human trafficking around the globe – if concentrated in the U.S., that would equal the entire population of Washington state three times over., While sex trafficking has been an area of great interest to public policy researchers, labor trafficking has only recently come to be a part of policy-making decisions. For this reason, there is a tendency in both private and public agencies to associate all forms of human trafficking with sexual exploitation.

Yet globally, the vast majority of victims, approximately 16.4 million (78%) are exploited primarily for other forms of forced labor, specifically in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic service, entertainment, fishing, manufacturing, mining, and state-imposed prison of military labor. Sexual assault of those victimized in the forms of labor listed above is also common. According to the ILO, private individuals and enterprises are responsible for exploiting 19 million victims (90% of those recorded as victimized), while state or rebel groups exploit approximately two million. These statistics highlight the vast influence private enterprises have in the trade of human beings for economic gain.

In a 2012 report, the ILO estimated that the global profits accrued through forced labor and sex labor exploitation reached $150 billion annually. These large profits are realized by minimizing the value of human life all over the globe for financial gain.

Foreign labor recruiters and human trafficking

Labor recruiters, also known as labor intermediaries or labor brokers, who facilitate employment for migrant workers are another key driver of the human trafficking industry. Labor recruiters serve as an important facilitator for workers in search of employment opportunities, which fosters a dependent power dynamic resulting in workers’ vulnerability. The role of foreign labor recruiters varies in significance ranging from signing paperwork to securing housing and negotiating wages. In many cases, using a labor intermediary is the only way for workers to secure employment and is therefore a necessary risk of survival. A Reuters investigation from 2007 to 2016 found that labor recruiters were responsible for securing visas for 80% of the two million foreign workers approved for work in the United States – primarily in the agricultural industry or low-skill positions.

The Global Horizons Manpower, Inc. human trafficking case

The Global Horizons case, an international labor broker based in California, is a perfect example of how corrupt recruitment of temporary, migrant and immigrant workers and human trafficking directly impact the supply chain (also referred to as the food chain) in Washington state.

Under the guise of a legitimate recruitment agency, in the early to mid-2000’s, Global Horizons trafficked over 1,000 Thai workers on H-2A visas into agricultural jobs across the U.S., including Eastern Washington. Two hundred or so of the workers were trafficked and forced to work in Washington and Hawaii.

Global Horizons charged aspiring workers in Thailand upwards of $20,000 in recruitment fees in exchange for a promise of steady and high paying agricultural jobs with a legitimate H-2A guest worker visa, transportation to and from the United States, and housing.

According to a Verité investigative report on the case, upon arrival in the United States, workers’ passports were confiscated, their wages were lower than promised, and in some cases, pay was withheld completely. Bonded to their jobs with a large debt to Global Horizons, families to care for in Thailand, and financially and socially isolated, these workers were forced to work day after day from 2003-2007 with no avenue for recourse.

Specific living conditions varied by employer, but generally, the Thai workers were forced to live in dilapidated housing infested with rats and insects while sharing a room with dozens of others, and many men slept without beds. Furthermore, they were forbidden from leaving the premises. On the job, they endured screaming, threats and physical assaults from their supervisors, and were isolated from non-Thai farm workers, reports the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In May of 2016, a federal judge ordered Global Horizons, Inc. to pay $7,658,500 to 67 Thai workers who are known to have suffered abuse, harassment and forced labor at two Yakima area farms.

Dell and Swedish County Councils case study

In addition to farm labor, the information, communication, and technology (ICT) industry is another area hard hit by human rights abuses and forced labor.

The Swedish County Councils’ relationship with Dell offers a similar case for a smart, best practice. The Swedish County Councils are collectively responsible for the procurement of products and services valued at more than €13 billion, many of which are commodities made wholly or in part by factories abroad and in industries known to be vulnerable to human rights abuses, such as forced labor and sweatshops in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Acknowledging the country’s ethical responsibility to its citizens and to our global community, the Councils established the Social Responsibility in Public Procurement Network, which represents the Country’s 21 county councils.

All 21 county councils use the same code for labor standards and contract performance conditions. The network evaluates supply chains, engages with suppliers and takes action collectively, all of which offer more negotiation power to each county and have resulted in more transparent supply chains. To facilitate nationwide coordination and social auditing work by Electronic Watch, each council contributes €.04 per capita.

In 2013, the Danish nonprofit organization, DanWatch, released a report highlighting labor rights and safety violations in four electronic factories in China that supply various electronic brands, including Dell, ASUS, HP, Samsung, Microsoft, and IBM. The DanWatch report uncovered that laborers were required to work excessive hours, up to 74 hours per week, were subject to forced overtime and wages below the local legal minimum wage and had worked under inadequate occupational health and safety conditions.

At the time, the Stockholm County Council (and others) held a contract with a reseller, Atea, for computers worth €17 million, many of which are supplied through Dell. Promptly after this report was released, the county council network contacted Dell to confirm their supply and start the arduous process towards reconciliation.

Over the course of approximately two years, the Social Responsibility in Public Procurement Network worked with Atea and Dell to resolve most of the labor rights violations in their factory suppliers. The resolution included strengthening Atea’s and Dell’s due diligence to ensure their supply chains were acceptable, improving risk identification, increasing supply chain transparency and supporting a more robust monitoring practice. Through this process, important lessons were learned that can be used to support other public agencies with an appetite to curb human rights violations in their vendor’s supply chains (See Sweden County Councils Lessons Box for more information).

Labor trafficking and Washington state

In search of work and a better life, Maria (this is a pseudonym used to protect identity) hired a smuggler on a payment plan to help her cross the border in the United States. Now indebted to her smuggler and with limited employment options in the United States, she was preyed upon by traffickers and was forced to do custodial work in a southern border state. In addition to being held physically captive and abused, she was debt-bonded and continued to accumulate debt from her trafficker, who charged her exorbitant fees for transportation, housing, and food.

Eventually, Maria was approached by a woman who offered to help her pay off her debt and escape from her trafficker. Desperate for freedom, she placed her trust in this woman, and accepted the offer. Unfortunately, this woman, too, prayed on her vulnerability, relocated her to Washington State, and trafficked her in another custodial contract agency.

Maria was now debt-bonded to a new trafficker, a woman who controlled her by isolating her, indoctrinating her with fear of the police and immigration officers, and torturing her with physical and psychological abuse.

Maria’s trafficker owned a janitorial service company and held contracts to provide these services to several businesses, including hotels and office buildings in the area. To supply her workforce, she often recruited from other countries and/or hired workers she could easily exploit, such as Maria.

The trafficker forced all her victims to work in her janitorial business cleaning deserted buildings overnight and condemned them to domestic servitude during the day. Maria and her peers worked long hours, slept on the floor, and were rarely given enough food to subside their hunger. If Maria’s trafficker suspected anyone of trying to reach out for help, they were relentlessly beaten. In theory, Maria received a couple hundred dollars per month in salary, but her trafficker kept her earnings, claiming it was to pay back the debt Maria had accumulated.

After multiple years total of being trafficked, abused, and forced to clean local hotels and businesses in, she was finally provided the opportunity to rescue herself. Today, Maria and her child are safe and separated from her trafficker.

Labor trafficking is present, but not limited to international supply chains. In line with the ILO’s international estimate on labor trafficking prevalence, API-Chaya, a local survivor service provider, reports that approximately two-thirds of all their human trafficking cases are those of forced labor. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in 18 Washington counties, many of which represent non-sex labor trafficking. The State’s commercial landscape provides ample avenues for traffickers to transport their victims in and out of the country unnoticed and force them to work in sectors that both contribute to the economy and that are known to be predisposed to labor trafficking, namely construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and hospitality and food, which collectively generate nearly $100 billion towards the state’s GDP.

Washington state is an internationally recognized leader in import and export businesses, largely due to its variety of retail, manufacturing and globally-focused companies, its diverse offering of goods and services, and its geographic advantages. As an international gateway to the rest of the nation, Washington’s import industry contributes significantly to the state’s growing economy., At least 40% of all jobs in Washington can be tied to trade, making it “one of the most trade-engaged economies in the country.” In addition, the abundance of air and sea ports, railways, and highways place Washington at risk of contributing to human trafficking locally and globally.

Migrant workers, including those who travel across international borders and workers following harvest seasons across the U.S., are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. One of the most prominent factors underlying the vulnerability of migrant workers who travel far or travel internationally are the actions of unscrupulous labor recruiters, such as Global Horizons Inc. and Maria’s trafficker, that deceive prospective workers and charge exorbitant fees that migrant workers cannot repay in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, the seasonal and temporary workflow of agricultural production leads workers to frequently migrate to follow the crops’ seasons. As a result, workers often do not build relationships with any one community and may not recognize local support networks, or understand laws or available services.

Washington’s economy is heavily reliant on industries and workforces vulnerable to human trafficking and other labor rights abuses. Therefore, it is imperative that Washington consider ways to protect its supply chains from labor trafficking violations both domestically and abroad.

Procurement Status Quo in Washington

Through master contracts, the state has the power to leverage change within its vendors’ supply chains. DES maintains master contracts with several leading technology companies, such as Dell, HP Inc., IBM, and Microsoft. Between 2014 and 2016, one of Washington’s largest electronics vendors, Dell, held a master contract with the state valued at approximately $181 million. In this period, as many as 102 cities used the Dell master contract along with 494 other public entities. Similarly, between 2014 and 2016, HP Inc.’s master contract was valued at approximately $128 million and 84 cities in Washington used the contract, including the City of Seattle and numerous towns and counties.

At present, Washington state does not have a law mandating that state agencies procure from sweatfree or otherwise ethically sourced vendors.


Human trafficking is a vast and complex trade that requires a multifaceted response often summarized as prosecution, prevention, protection and partnership. Ethical sourcing is one such approach that will in part, address the root causes of human trafficking, promote best practices in clean supply chain management, and incentivize compliance.

At the request of the Washington State Legislature and supported by the Washington State Department of Commerce, as required by Washington Law 2015 3rd special section c. 4. S. 36 (ESSB 6052) in 2015, the University of Washington Women’s Center was tasked with developing recommendations to implement ethical sourcing practices in our state.
Below is a selection of provisions and management practices that the Women’s Center recommends the Washington Department of Enterprise Services include in a statewide anti-human trafficking procurement policy that requires vendors to map and manage an ethical supply chain:

● Collaborate on and monitor contracts statewide. For optimal impact, we encourage DES to develop and implement a policy that is applied to all contracts, particularly master contracts. Inclusion of anti-human trafficking policies in master contracts will further support affiliated counties, cities, and towns in implementing their respective anti-human trafficking procurement initiatives. Furthermore, we encourage DES to manage their master contracts collectively by using the weight of the total value of business with the vendor to leverage outcomes as Swedish County Councils has successfully done.

Additionally, to produce unbiased audits and support, we encourage all applicable vendor supply chains to be monitored by an independent monitoring agency.

● Include anti-human trafficking language in service contracts. Human trafficking and forced labor are not restricted to international supply chains. Labor conducted to supply a service are also a part of a public or private supply chain, such as janitorial services in an office building or room service at a hotel. Therefore, anti-human trafficking supply chain management practices should be extended to contracts related to the procurement of services in addition to goods.

● Include language that regulates foreign labor recruiters and prohibits these recruiters from charging workers any fees. Labor recruiters are a key driver of the human trafficking industry. A common tactic of unscrupulous recruiters known to exploit workers is the practice of charging exorbitant fees that results in workers who are debt-bonded and vulnerable to a host of human rights abuses. This practice has led to countless cases of human trafficking, including the Global Horizons case in Washington State. Public and private procurement experts alike have identified the prohibition of labor recruitment fees to be a best practice for reducing risk of forced labor in supply chains.

Additional recommendations included in the report to reduce human trafficking are as follows:

● Encourage Corporations with a Significant Presence in Washington State to Transparently and Diligently Manage Clean Supply Chains to encourage meaningful accountability and enforcement mechanisms that incentivize diligent management of ethical supply chains;

● Strengthen the Farm Labor Recruitment Act to protect foreign workers from exploitation in Washington;

● Contract with third-party monitoring agencies such as the Worker Rights Consortium, and Electronics Watch to audit Washington’s supply chains and support vendor compliance;

● Invest in third-party research to map and analyze risk in Washington’s current supply chain;

● Revive the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Trade Policy to review the impact of trade agreements and make recommendations to trade representatives on solutions to eliminate forced labor in global supply chains.

● Leverage Washington ports as an enforcement mechanism.

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