Hidden Chains Part 2

When going through our 40-hour trek home I felt like I went through the five stages of grief. Denial that Priyal and I were leaving behind our newly formed family and that we would be on an airplane and at multiple airports for the next two days! Anger or angry that time went by fast while we were India and too slow while we were on a layover in Newark, NJ. Bargaining with Priyal for the aisle seat and the electrical plug to charge our phones. Depression as we gazed out of the airport window upon our arrival home at the gloomy weather. Acceptance as I reflected back on the past month and the amazing lessons learned and friends made and the realization that despite the terribly long trip back home, I am truly very blessed.


In the midst of my many emotional states during our flights and long layovers human trafficking was frequently on my mind and heart. I know that Priyal and I’s last few posts have been about some heavy subject matters, but these are topics near and dear to our hearts.

To follow up on the first human trafficking post, I wanted to focus this time on labor trafficking. What is this exactly? Does this happen in the U.S.? What is being done to stop its occurrence and how can we participate in the effort? These are the questions I wanted to answer and share.

Labor trafficking, as defined by the Polaris Project is when labor traffickers (recruiters, contractors, employers, etc.) use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, or other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will. Just like sex trafficking, these traffickers target vulnerable populations including, but definitely not limited to immigrants, those in debt, the impoverished, the abused, LGBTQ, and more.

Based on the Polaris Project, 14.2 million people are trapped into forced labor. The common industries utilizing slave labor include agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Labor put together a document of all of the identified goods that are produced by forced and child labor. Again, just like sex trafficking, this data is most likely an underestimate because of the difficulties in collecting accurate data about trafficking. Based on the U.S. Department of Labor’s estimates, 136 goods from 74 different countries are made from forced and child labor!

I want to reiterate the importance of reporting any concern that you may have. According to The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, since 2007, 25,791 cases of both labor and sex trafficking have been reported. This terrible number doesn’t cover the actual number of people that could have been helped by reporting their case and getting them the resources that they need. Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to seek advice if you’re concerned about a person’s wellbeing.

For medical professionals, check out the following algorithm on identifying human trafficking victims here. I also highly recommend going through this document, no matter what your profession is regarding the mindset of victims in order to better understand their difficulties and barriers.

Please visit Slavery Footprint to tell you which brands to buy from to reduce your personal slavery footprint. It is very difficult to determine all of the brands and companies that use slave free labor in one way, shape or form, but the organization called Made In A Free World is focused on building revolutionary tools to help organizations address slavery in their supply chains including ways that we as consumers can be apart of. The online tools show us that we have a lot of work to do regarding this very important topic, but again, people have started the fight already and there has been good movement towards the cause. I am encouraged by the increased awareness regarding labor trafficking and I hope that we can continue to empower our little, big fighters.

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.