Global Spotlight: Combating Human Trafficking

In recognition of the thousands of men, women and children who fall prey to human trafficking in the U.S. every year, January has been declared Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness and Prevention Month.  According to the Global Freedom Center:

Modern slavery, or human trafficking, is the reprehensible practice of holding another in compelled service using whatever means necessary, be it physical or psychological. Anywhere between 12 [and] 27 million people are held in slavery around the world today – men, women, and children coerced into bonded labor, forced or sold into prostitution, held in domestic servitude, and enslaved in agricultural fields and factories.

Because anti-trafficking legal resources are severely limited and trafficking victims are rarely in a position to pay for legal assistance, pro bono plays a pivotal role in protecting and empowering trafficking victims and bringing traffickers to justice.  Whether by helping an undocumented victim obtain a T or U nonimmigrant visa, representing survivors in a civil suit against their traffickers, drafting model anti-trafficking laws, or working to expose and redress noncompliance with the federal Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), pro bono lawyers are a force majeure in the U.S. movement to break the chain.

The Human Rights Group at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC* undertakes innovative, complex human trafficking litigation.  In the tragic case of Ramchandra Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners, Cohen Milstein is taking on two corporations – Daoud & Partners (Daoud) and Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) – on behalf of a trafficking survivor and the families of twelve deceased victims.  The complaint alleges that the companies collaborated to increase profits by obtaining cheap labor to work at U.S. military base camps in Iraq.  They trafficked young Nepali men to Iraq under the pretext that the men would be working at a luxury hotel in Jordan or in an American camp in the U.S.  The men were assured that working conditions would be safe and promised $500 per month for their labor.

But, when the men arrived in Jordan, Daoud allegedly confiscated their passports and informed them that they would be transferred to a camp in Iraq.  They traveled by caravan along the dangerous Amman-to-Baghdad highway without any security.  En route, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, Iraqi insurgents, abducted twelve of the men.  Their captors sent a video of the Nepali men to the Foreign Ministry of Nepal.  In the video, the men state:  “We were kept as captives in Jordan at first . . . were not allowed to return home . . . and were forced to go to Iraq.”  The insurgents killed all twelve men.

One man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, made it to the U.S. base in Iraq.  However, when he learned about the deaths of the other twelve, Gurung became frightened and asked to go home.  Daoud and KBR allegedly informed him that he would not be permitted to depart until his work was finished.  They held Gurung against his will for 15 months before they allowed him to leave.

The Nepali plaintiffs are suing Daoud and KBR under the TVPRA, Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, Alien Tort Statute, and negligence theories.  Last month, Cohen Milstein overcame a significant jurisdictional hurtle in this novel case when it presented sufficient evidence to persuade a U.S. court to assume jurisdiction over the foreign defendant, Daoud, in this transnational matter.  The Court held that Daoud has sufficient contacts with the U.S. to warrant general jurisdiction.  Cohen Milstein attorney Molly McOwen told The PBEye:

This is one of the first cases under the TVPRA against a corporation, and certainly the first of its kind involving the trafficking of individuals to a U.S. military base.  Since the Court announced last month that it has personal jurisdiction over Daoud & Partners, we are now preparing to take this case to trial against both defendants.

Amidst a flurry of international media attention generated by the Daoud case, Jordan has adopted an anti-human-trafficking law.

The Daoud case isn’t Cohen Milstein’s first foray into anti-trafficking pro bono.  The firm undertook groundbreaking litigation representing survivors of the system of sexual slavery instituted by the Government of Japan in the territories it conquered during World War II.  Of the estimated 200,000 victims – euphemistically known as “comfort women” though some were as young as 10 years old – only a few thousand survived the repeated rape and beatings.  Many more perished.  Cohen Milstein sued Japan in the U.S. District Court on behalf of the survivors and the case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  While the judicial efforts did not prove fruitful, Cohen Milstein’s lawsuit heightened the visibility of the plight of “comfort women” and the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling for a formal apology from the Japanese Government.

“For the client,” says McOwen, “it’s about the principle and recognition of what happened.  Our obligation is to give them the best legal representation available.  We offer them a chance to stand up to the largest corporate defendants who have the resources to hire top-notch legal counsel.  This work attracts good lawyers to the firm and gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction.”

Drop us a comment, below, and tell us how your law firm or legal department combats human trafficking through pro bono.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® 

Hat tip to PBI Legal Intern Ashley Binetti for her help with this post.