Hawley, Blumenthal Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Crack Down on Human Trafficking by Empowering Victims

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

U.S. Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced bipartisan legislation to hold human traffickers accountable by giving victims their day in court.

“Human trafficking survivors deserve justice, not forced arbitration,” said Senator Hawley. “This legislation puts power in the hands of survivors and gives them the power to hold human traffickers accountable.”

“Forcing victims of modern-day slavery into a rigged arbitration system deprives them of one of the most powerful tools they have to hold their traffickers accountable: access to justice,” Senator Blumenthal said. “This narrowly crafted and bipartisan legislation will make human traffickers pay for their crimes.”

Under current law, traffickers shield themselves from accountability through coercive loopholes in employment contracts that effectively force victims to relinquish their legal remedies available under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

These forced arbitration clauses, as they are known, prevent victims from having their day in court while allowing traffickers to escape legal responsibility. Many forced arbitration clauses also include a confidentiality requirement—which prevents perpetrators from being held publicly accountable—as well as a provision barring survivors from joining together in class action lawsuits against traffickers.

Empowering survivors by cracking down on forced arbitration will help break the dangerous cycle of human trafficking crimes too often committed by repeated offenders.

“Forcing survivors into arbitration for trafficking claims denies access to justice and hides traffickers from public accountability. Survivors deserve to have their claims heard by a judge and jury and the chance to receive full payment for the work they performed and the exploitation they endured. The public deserves to know if companies in their communities and supply chains are exploiting their workers. This small change will create a huge impact for trafficking survivors in the US,” said Jean Bruggeman, Executive Director of Freedom Network USA. “We hope to see Congress listen to survivors and pass this bill without delay.”

“Victims and survivors of trafficking are regularly forced into silence through their traffickers’ threats, intimidation, abuse and deprivation. Mandatory arbitration creates yet another barrier to their ability to seek justice for these abuses, and allows exploiters to escape legal consequences for their actions,” said Catherine Chen, CEO, Polaris. “Polaris supports The Ending Forced Arbitration of Human Trafficking Act to eliminate this loophole and ensure victims and survivors get the justice they deserve.”

“Forced arbitration thwarts trafficking survivors’ efforts to seek justice. These arbitration clauses prevent trafficking survivors from filing lawsuits that would provide vindication — and financial damages. Instead, trafficking survivors must submit to a forum that is expensive, secretive, and rigged against them,” said Martina Vandenberg, President of the Human Trafficking Legal Center. “Forced arbitration has become a weapon to hold workers in forced labor, preventing them from leaving their abusive situations. This cannot continue. Forced arbitration in sex trafficking and forced labor cases must end.”

“We’ve seen the effects of human trafficking and understand the devastating harm it creates. Seeking justice through federal litigation may provide meaningful relief for survivors by bringing their claims to light, allowing access to important procedures that level the playing field, and providing a deterrent effect for employers who traffic,” said Keeli Sorensen, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at Justice in Motion. “This bill will protect vulnerable workers and give survivors access to the fair and transparent process they so richly deserve.”

“Like victims of sexual harassment and assault, victims of human trafficking must not be subjected to forced arbitration in disputes alleging conduct related to or constituting human trafficking. Therefore, I strongly support Senator Blumenthal and Hawley’s bill to amend Chapter 4 of title 9, United States Code, to ban arbitration of disputes involving human trafficking,” said Kirsten Foot, PhD, CEO & Executive Director of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking. “Human trafficking victims include those who have been compelled to provide labor or sex acts through force, fraud, and/or coercion. They should not have to risk further exploitation through forced arbitration. The proposed amendment will protect victims of human trafficking and empower them to pursue the forms of justice and outcomes that are best for them.”

View full bill text here.