Ending Labor Trafficking
The Georgia Department of Agriculture cannot rely on the federal government to stop human trafficking in our own backyard—we must be willing to enforce Georgia laws and investigate abuses ourselves.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported, a massive human-trafficking ring enslaved more than a hundred migrant workers on South Georgia farms. The victims were kept prisoners at work camps, penned in by electric fences. They were forced at gunpoint to dig for onions, receiving only 20 cents for each bucket of onions they harvested. Two workers died; at least one other was raped repeatedly.
As a state, we cannot rely on the federal government to stop human trafficking in our own backyard. And the Department of Agriculture cannot rely on other Georgia agencies to identify forced labor on the very farms it’s charged with overseeing.
The Department of Agriculture should be taking the lead on human trafficking in Georgia’s agriculture industry.
Nakita Hemingway has a robust plan to investigate, prosecute and minimize labor trafficking in the agricultural sector. Labor trafficking in the agriculture sector in Georgia remains the single largest source of human trafficking in the state. Nakita understands that a responsive regulatory environment within the Department of Agriculture will help protect farm workers from abuses certainly, and also help bolster and protect the reputation of Georgia farms and Georgia agribusiness as a whole.
Under the Farm Protection Plan, we will:
Affirmatively direct the Department of Agriculture to investigate and report human rights violations on or related to farmland and farm operations, particularly as they relate to human trafficking, visa fraud or forced labor.
The importance of having a statewide response focused on eradicating human trafficking in Georgia is of the utmost priority of the Governor’s Office as well as the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Yet, the Department of Agriculture has never joined the state's Human Trafficking Task Force.
Upon assuming office, the Department of Agriculture will immediately request to join the statewide Human Trafficking Task Force and begin coordinating with all state and federal agency members.
To coordinate across federal and state agencies, the Department of Agriculture will also pursue a coordinated investigatory and action-based approach with relevant federal agencies including, but not limited to, the USDA, FDA, and DHS.
There is a well-documented labor shortage in Georgia’s agricultural industry which may help explain why the agricultural industry remains a particularly attractive target for human traffickers. Fostering state-wide solutions to this labor shortage may help disincentivize and discourage the practice across the board.
While Commissioner Black has punted this issue to the federal government, it is time for the Department of Agriculture to lead. Solutions to the labor issues facing Georgia producers can certainly be enacted at the state level and through the Department of Agriculture—education loans, training programs, mentorship opportunities, etc could all help drive the agriculture labor market.