Forced Labor

18 U.S. Code § 1589 - Forced Labor

Specific laws protect people from being forced to work against their will to ensure they are treated fairly, and their fundamental human rights are not violated.

Some of these laws dealing with forced labor within 18 U.S. Code Chapter 77 are related to sex trafficking. These often involve taking people across state lines or international borders for services, labor, or commercial sex, which induces someone, usually a minor, to engage in commercial sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion. These offenses often involve Mexican drug cartels.

18 U.S. Code § 1589 - Forced Labor
The federal crime of forced labor often involves commercial sex trafficking across state lines.

Related human trafficking laws often entail labor or services trafficking, which involves recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining someone for work through force, fraud, or coercion for purposes of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Title 18 U.S.C. 1589 makes forced labor a federal offense, described as knowingly providing or obtaining the labor or services of someone using force, threats of force, physical restraint, or fraud.  

18 U.S.C. 1589 says, “(a) Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of, the following means:

(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;

(2) by means of serious harm or threats of harm to that person or another person;

(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or

(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.”

Section 1589(b) makes it a crime for someone to knowingly benefit financially from participation in a venture engaging in forced labor. Let's review further below.

What Is Forced Labor?

The term “forced labor” essentially means slavery, where the victims are coerced through force or fear to perform labor or services against their will. Sometimes, it involves physical work, but it is more commonly related to commercial sexual exploitation and child pornography.

Often, victims are held against their will by force, deception, or threats of violence against themselves or their families.  In some cases, they are persuaded through false promises of better living conditions. Frequently, victims of forced labor fall within vulnerable groups, such as the following:

  • Teenage females from broken homes;
  • Runaway minors;
  • Homeless people with no family;
  • People in extreme poverty;
  • Undocumented immigrants;
  • Women and children;
  • Individuals with a language barrier;
  • People with a mental illness.

A typical scenario for forced labor is known as “debt bondage.” This includes a scenario where an employer charges their workers hiring fees they can't pay with their low wages and tells them they can't quit until all their fees are paid.

Another form is to deprive workers of mandatory time off, which is common when victims do not speak English or know their legal rights. They are often isolated and forced to work and live in poor conditions.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 77 Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in Persons has numerous federal laws that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1589 forced labor, such as the following:  

  • 18 U.S.C. 1581 - Peonage; obstructing enforcement means to hold a worker in debt servitude (indentured servant);
  • 18 U.S.C. 1582 - Vessels for slave trade;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1583 - Enticement into slavery;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1584 - Sale into involuntary servitude means to hold someone in compulsory service against their will (slavery);
  • 18 U.S.C. 1585 - Seizure, detention, transportation, or sale of slaves;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1586 - Service on vessels in slave trade;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1587 - Possession of slaves aboard vessel;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1588 - Transportation of slaves from the United States;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1590 - Trafficking concerning peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor to recruit, harbor, transport, or broker people into forced labor, etc.;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1591 - Sex trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1592 - Unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1593 - Mandatory restitution;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1593A - Benefitting financially from peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1594 - General provisions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1595 – Civil remedy;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1595A - Civil injunctions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1596 - Additional jurisdiction in certain trafficking offenses;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1597 - Unlawful conduct with immigration documents;
  • 18 U.S. Code 2421 - Transportation generally;
  • 18 U.S. Code 2423 - Transportation of minors;
  • 18 U.S. Code 2427 - Inclusion of offenses relating to child porn;
  • Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA);
  • Mann Act of 1910.

What Are the Penalties and Defenses?

Some federal statutes define specific types of criminal conduct and explain what a federal prosecutor must prove to obtain a conviction. Some regulations deal with when a convicted defendant has to pay restitution and if there are civil remedies.

Defenses for the federal crime of forced labor
Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation.

Suppose you are convicted of violating federal forced labor laws. In that case, you are facing up to 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a fine of up to $250,000.

Notably, however, aggravated circumstances might lead to an increased prison sentence.  For example, you could face life in prison if the forced labor included kidnapping or attempted kidnapping and the forced labor violation related to sexual abuse.

Another aggravating factor is forced labor involving attempted murder or resulting in someone's death. Perhaps you are charged with obstructing, or trying to obstruct, the enforcement of any laws designed to prevent forced labor, peonage, or trafficking in persons.

If you are facing allegations of violating United States Code, Title 18, Section 1589, forced labor laws, contact our federal criminal defense lawyers to review the case and discuss legal options.   

Perhaps we can negotiate with a federal prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain but are prepared to take the case to trial if necessary. Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.

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