Skip to main content
Unpublished Paper
EXPLOITATION NATION: The Thin and Grey Legal Lines between Trafficked Persons and Abused Migrant Laborers
ExpressO (2008)
  • Dina Haynes, New England School of Law
People around the world are on the move, pushed by external events such as civil war, political upheaval, and increasingly environmental disasters and pulled by the lure of a better life, a better job, a better way to provide for their families. The United States has created an inconsistent legal framework for responding to the exploitation of immigrants, dependent on the degree of victimhood, with the label of victim only frugally bestowed upon those who are also viewed as essential to sustaining the US economy. Trafficked persons are not useful to legitimate US businesspersons, and are accordingly protected. Agricultural and factory workers are very useful to businesspersons whom we regard as legitimate, and so until revealed as illegitimate labor or too exploitative, these migrants go unprotected. Part I of this paper looks at the psychology of migration and migration theory, and the human rights framework as a protection tool designed for migrants. Part II explores the notion of exploitation, and in particular the extent to which people in transit, migrants, are particularly vulnerable due to the very human nature that drives them to wish to improve their circumstances. It looks at the characteristics of exploitation, from the perspective of the exploiter and the exploited, and proposes that part of the reason migrants are so vulnerable to exploitation is the private sphere nature of the movement through and into new cultures and legal systems in which the migrant lives and works on the fringes of society, not fully embraced by it. Part III looks at two specific forms of exploitation, human trafficking and the abuse of agricultural laborers and guestworkers, and the international and domestic US legal responses to exploitation in those two contexts, theorizing that Americans and countries adhering to free market economies have very mixed feelings about exploitation. On the one hand we believe that exploitation is morally and past a certain degree even legally wrong, but on the other accepting it as a necessary characteristic of doing business in the global market. Part IV digs more deeply into principles of democracy and capitalism to search for answers, suggesting that legal responses to exploitation alone will never be sufficient, and that civil society, wielding human rights arguments and tools may be the most effective counterforce to exploitation. Part V offers a prescription for change, recommending that civil society and immigration law responses be bolstered to protect against exploitation in particular.
  • migrant labor,
  • human trafficking,
  • migration,
  • immigration,
  • immigrant labor,
  • labor exploitation,
  • human rights,
  • human rights and migration
Publication Date
April 4, 2008
Citation Information
Dina Haynes. "EXPLOITATION NATION: The Thin and Grey Legal Lines between Trafficked Persons and Abused Migrant Laborers" ExpressO (2008)
Available at: