Two women, enticed by promises of well-paid work and plentiful opportunities, left their homelands for a better life in California. A nightmare awaited them.
Upon arrival, Angela Guanzon was told she owed $12,000 to her employer and had to work 10 years at a nursing home to repay her debt. Renuka Zellars was manipulated at a young age into indentured servitude and prevented from leaving her employer’s house even to attend school.
Threatened and mistreated by their employers, these women had nowhere to turn. In other cases we have studied, people were forced to work in the fields nine hours a day, six days per week, for less than $10 per hour.
All are victims of labor trafficking, a sinister crime that exploits innocent workers through force, fraud or coercion and traps them in oppressive situations.
The Little Hoover Commission, California’s independent government watchdog, has spent the past year examining the state’s response to this gross injustice. As chair of the commission and members of the study’s subcommittee, we have learned that state efforts to combat this crime must be strengthened.
California focuses far more on combatting sex trafficking instead, a more recognizable and equally horrific form of abuse. Make no mistake: the state’s work against sex trafficking is crucial and must continue. But labor trafficking must be combatted just as aggressively.
Right now, victims of labor trafficking toil without being seen. And their traffickers escape the justice they deserve far too often.