Kohn Swift represents plaintiffs in forced labor litigation.

Forced Labor is defined by the International Labour Organization as “all work or service exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”

Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Forced labor includes situations of debt bondage and involuntary child labor. Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many industries.

Common types of forced labor include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farmworkers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, construction, janitorial, or restaurant work, or factory workers. Workers are often held in unsanitary and overcrowded living and working conditions, receive nominal or no pay. Debt bondage and document servitude are pervasive.

It is estimated that globally there are 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor with 16 million victims of labor trafficking in private industry, 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking, and 4.1 million victims of state-imposed forced labor.



Debt bondage includes a range of situations, from feudal systems of slave-labor exploitation to migrant workers who accrue debt to cover the costs of their recruitment. Furthermore, there is a close relationship between debt bondage exploitation such as forced labor, the abuse of migrant workers, trafficking, and the worst forms of child labor.


Document servitude is servitude that one person imposes on another person by knowingly destroying, taking, or keeping official identification documentation that the other person is required to possess.

City building with an American flag flying


A number of provisions of U.S. federal law target forced labor, also known as human trafficking, involuntary servitude, or slavery. In particular, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) gives victims in the United States the right to sue traffickers. It also allows victims to sue “whoever knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value” from the trafficking crimes committed against them. Traffickers and the trafficking enablers who helped and supported them can be sued in U.S. federal courts even if they do not live in the United States.


Courts in forced labor cases may award plaintiffs monetary damages to compensate them for unpaid wages and overtime. They also can award damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages, to punish the trafficker and to dissuade future trafficking.

In addition, courts can use injunctive relief, for example, requiring employers to change certain practices. Most important for some survivors is the opportunity to seek justice, to hold the traffickers accountable for the horrific abuse they have endured.