Daily Pilot: Vanguard University to host business forum on recognizing, combatting labor trafficking


While the toll of global human trafficking is steep, with a U.N. estimate of 24.9 million people worldwide falling prey to exploitation and slavery at any given time, it’s not always easy to see how such crimes intersect with everyday business.

In Orange County, 357 individuals were found to have been victimized in 2021, according to a report from a countywide Human Trafficking Task Force. Among those, 33 cases of labor trafficking were uncovered, although not a single case was prosecuted.

Given nearly two-thirds of human trafficking is labor related — a rate more than three times higher than the incidence of sex trafficking — those who work to fight labor exploitation say more needs to be done.

Industries such as financial services, travel and entertainment, including hotels and short-term rental operations, are susceptible to forced labor practices, experts say.

“When you really dig down, you find out all the investigations were on sex trafficking,” Dr. Sandie Morgan, director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, said of Orange County statistics. “It’s happening in plain sight, but it’s very labor intensive for law enforcement to go after it.”

A free forum Saturday at Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University invites area residents and members of the business community to learn more about labor trafficking and how to avoid perpetuating exploitation by making better choices.

The discussion will be hosted by Vanguard’s Global Center for Women and Justice and will feature a presentation by former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large John Cotton Richmond, appointed by the Trump administration in 2018 to monitor and combat human trafficking.

Richmond, who co-founded the Human Trafficking Institute after serving for more than a decade as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, said Monday he plans to talk about tools businesses can use to assess their risk and make improvements.

California’s Supply Chain Transparency Act, for example, gives consumers and business owners access to data about retailers and manufacturers to make better decisions. European nations are already beginning to adopt laws mandating large corporations ensure human rights are protected within supply chains, a model that could work here, Richmond said.

“If we’re going to end trafficking, it’s going to require governments to step up and do a better job and also businesses,” he added. “We’ve got these new tools and we’ve got strategies — we need to learn how to use them, and we need to do this practically.”

Richmond will be joined by a panel of experts at Saturday’s forum, including judges and corporate responsibility executives, who will answer questions from attendees. Morgan said she hopes to get people thinking about what they can do to ensure local business is conducted as humanely as possible.

“It has been an uphill battle because, I think, people don’t understand this as their fight, and they don’t know what a difference a small investment of their time might make,” she said. “This is a wake-up call — your consumers are going to ask you to do better and, more importantly, victims deserve for you to do better.”

Saturday’s forum takes place from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the William Seymour Building at Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa. For more information and to RSVP, visit gcwj.org/events.