The Underprosecution of Labor Trafficking

Annie Smith


Most law enforcement efforts concerning human trafficking focus on sex trafficking. Labor trafficking remains a devastating yet under-prosecuted crime. The failure to prosecute labor trafficking has severe consequences for trafficked individuals and those vulnerable to it. Without state intervention, traffickers are more likely to control and abuse increasing numbers of workers. Trafficked individuals risk ongoing harm and fear. In the absence of successful prosecutions, survivors of labor trafficking cannot readily access restitution or the relative peace of mind that can come from knowing their traffickers are being held accountable. 

This Article identifies likely causes of the ongoing and widespread failure to prosecute labor trafficking, including workplace exceptionalism, the labor trafficking eclipse, and maladaptive law enforcement strategies. It considers critiques of a carceral approach and argues for thoughtfully and strategically increasing appropriate labor trafficking prosecutions. It then proposes reforms to strategically increase prosecutions. The analysis is informed by insights of scholars across disciplines, anti-trafficking advocates, survivors, law enforcement, and prosecutors.