Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
2010 DOJ National Conference on Human Trafficking
The TVPA Decade: Progress and Promise
Monday, May 3, 2010
Thank you Ms. Leary for that introduction.
And thank you for the invitation to speak at this national conference on human trafficking an issue I care deeply about.
I also want to thank Attorney General Eric Holder for his leadership on this issue.
Ten years after the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, we are even more committed to the conference's goal of disseminating best practices for prosecuting human trafficking and assisting victims.
The Department of Labor's commitment to fighting human trafficking comes from its long history of working to protect and assist vulnerable workers, some of whom may have been trafficked into forced labor.
As one of my priorities, the Department of Labor is engaged both domestically and internationally to better serve and protect vulnerable workers.
Labor trafficking puts women, children, and men in the most extreme forms of workplace exploitation.
It leads to situations where people are denied not only their wages, but their human rights.
Our efforts to ensure that workers are afforded all of their rights under the law include initiatives that help to combat human trafficking in all of its forms.
The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, with the support of our Solicitor's Office, administers our civil law enforcement actions in the nation's workplaces.
Working to ensure compliance with labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, our wage and hour investigators are in workplaces across this country each and every day.
They are often the first government authorities to witness exploitive labor practices in the workplace.
In those industries where high numbers of vulnerable workers are found, like restaurants, garment manufacturing, and agriculture, investigators interview workers and assess situations where workers may have been intimidated, threatened, or held against their will.
Investigators also review payroll records and inspect migrant farm worker housing.
The Wage and Hour Division coordinates with other law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and offices of Assistant United States Attorneys, to ensure restitution on behalf of victims of trafficking.
Trafficking victims are the most vulnerable workers in this country.
As a state senator in California, I learned first-hand how 72 Thai workers in my own district, worked for seven years in virtual slavery in a sweatshop with boarded up windows and fences covered with razor wire making garments until they were freed by law enforcement and several hundred Latinos were not paid minimum wage or over-time.
As a member of Congress, I was involved in passing House Resolution condemning the murders of victims of human trafficking and labor abuse in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
These women worked in slave-like conditions and then brutally killed through no fault of their own.
These are the individuals whom we all have a duty to help and protect.
This focus on protecting the most vulnerable workers in today's economy is why I have bolstered the enforcement staff in all of my agencies.
I have already added 250 investigators in the Wage and Hour Division alone.
And I'm not done yet!
The Department of Labor has also launched a new public awareness initiative the "We Can Help" campaign that is empowering vulnerable workers.
"Podemos Ayudar" with investigators able to speak multiple languages.
The campaign focuses on informing workers of their rights and encourages them regardless of immigration status to report violations of wage and hour laws that occur on the job with total privacy and confidentiality.
During this campaign, the Wage and Hour Division is conducting outreach to stakeholders, international consular officials, community and faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups throughout the country.
We are targeting workers in a broad range of industries including: construction, garment, manufacturing, restaurants, in-home health care, hotels and motels, and agriculture.
We are using public service announcements, worker rights videos, posters, publications, and billboard advertisements to get our message out.
Later this year, the Department of Labor will begin exercising its new authority to certify applications for U Nonimmigrant Status Visas.
This was not used by the previous administration. We see it as another tool to help vulnerable workers.
U visas — as they are known — are designed to help victims of qualifying criminal activities, including trafficking, who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of those crimes.
Regardless of immigration status, no one should have to suffer criminal abuse silently.
U visas give some measure of security to immigrant victims who are in abusive situations and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement.
Certification of U visas will assist local law enforcement in rescuing vulnerable immigrants from suffering and help put criminals behind bars.
The Department of Labor's authority to certify U visas will be delegated to its Wage and Hour Division, which will identify potential applicants in appropriate circumstances during the course of workplace investigations.
Clear protocols regarding the identification of qualifying criminal activities and the certification of U Visa applications will be available in mid-summer, and certifications are expected to begin soon thereafter.
On another note, internationally, our Bureau of International Labor Affairs builds relationships and funds programs in developing countries to improve working conditions and labor standards across the global economy.
The Labor Department has been funding projects since 1995 to combat child labor, including children trafficked into such situations.
These projects have helped rescue close to 1.3 million children, offering them new hope through education and training.
On September 10, 2009, we released three new reports on child labor and forced labor in countries around the globe.
These reports are:
- The List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor;
- The List of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor; and
- The 8th annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.
All three reports demonstrate that from factories to the farms, abuses of fundamental human rights, including human trafficking, still persists in the 21st century.
In today's global economy, workers in any country are vulnerable to trafficking and labor rights abuses.
We believe that our innovative programs are necessary to help workers earn decent incomes and to prevent them from being abused and exploited.
This approach is a vital part of the Administration's goal of ensuring that globalization provides benefits and opportunities for workers everywhere, rather than triggering a "race to the bottom."
As a nation and as members of the global community, we reject the proposition that it is acceptable to pursue economic gain through the exploitation of human beings.
Allowing these abusive practices to persist only slows development and undermines decent employment, both here and abroad.
Violence in the workplace or trafficking for the sake of monetary gain is unconscionable.
No nation does or should get ahead at the peril of its workers.