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Human Trafficking Center

Trafficking in Plain Sight: Exploitation of Sales Crews

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Jun 2015

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by Ashley Greve, Staff

If a salesperson knocked on your door and asked for money to purchase their product, would you recognize them as a potential victim of human trafficking?

Trafficking in the form of door-to-door sales jobs happens every day- even in Denver. If you’ve ever heard of debt bondage and thought that it was limited to countries like India and Pakistan, it may be because this type of human trafficking is often overlooked precisely because it appears so ordinary. How can a trafficker conceal their crime under the noses of dozens or even hundreds of households, clients, and passers-by?

Young, economically struggling, and otherwise marginalized populations are often the targets recruited for this type of exploitation. Youth, in particular, may be lured by the promise of high wages, drugs, or an otherwise carefree lifestyle. Traffickers provide food, shelter, or transportation at the onset of employment, thereby starting a cycle of indebtedness before the employees even begin their sales. The salesperson will often continue to rely on their employer for these basic needs because most of their income is confiscated or withheld. Adding to the problem, if they fail to meet (usually arbitrary) sales quotas, they will find themselves further indebted.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that sales crews are controlled through isolation from family and friends reinforced through frequent movement from city to city. “If a crewmember is non-compliant with crew rules or fails to make daily sales quotas, he or she risks being left behind in an unfamiliar city with no money to get home.”

Why are sales crews vulnerable?

There are a number of industry vulnerabilities that sales crews face. Employers can impose fake fees, inflate debt, or simply disappear. If confronted by their employee, they may threaten to call the police, particularly if the workers are drug users or undocumented migrants. Alternately, a sales crew member may be classified on paper as an “independent contractor.” This shields the employer from having to provide basic guarantees such as workman’s compensation packages.

Some of the coercive conditions under which sales crews work do not legally qualify as human trafficking but are nonetheless exploitative. It can be difficult to find the evidence necessary to classify an abusive employer as a trafficker.

Elden Rosenthal, a lawyer from Oregon, stated in regards to civil cases relating to magazine sales crews: “I don’t think I could win a human trafficking case. They signed contracts. They’re told they can leave…Fraud and coercion carry a high burden of proof.”

What should you do?

If you come across someone selling magazines, cleaning supplies, or other items, you might request to see a city- or state-issued sales permit, as suggested by News 6 in Oklahoma. Keep in mind there are legitimate employers of sales crews who treat their employees well. Not every member of a travelling sales crew is trafficked or work under exploitative conditions. But sometimes it is the ordinary citizen who senses that something is off and sets in motion an investigation. The police will field such calls, as will the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or, (in Colorado) the Colorado Network to end Human Trafficking (CoNEHT).

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-373-7888

Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (CoNEHT) 1-866-455-5075

 

Photo Credit: Alex LaSpisa

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