18 U.S.C. § 1589 


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Corporate criminal liability Criminal liability Forced labour Group or joint liability

This provision criminalises and punishes both forced labour and those who benefit from forced labour.  Forced labour is defined as providing or obtaining labour by threats of or actual serious harm or physical restraint, by causing the victims to believe they would suffer serious harm or restraint, or through abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

Under this section, a person who knowingly benefits financially from participating in a venture that has engaged in forced labour is also criminally liable.

For both offences there are significant criminal penalties of 20 years imprisonment, or life imprisonment where there are aggravating circumstances, and fines.


Subsection (c) of this section provides further detail of the meaning of the terms “serious harm” and “abuse or threatened abuse of the law or legal process”. The element of “serious harm” is defined to mean any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances as the victim, to perform the labour or services. Under this definition, serious harm may therefore include severe underpayment or withholding of wages that creates financial harm and forces the victim to continue working.

The term “abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process” is also defined to mean the use or threatened use of a law or legal process, whether administrative, civil, or criminal, in any manner or for any purpose for which the law was not designed, in order to exert pressure on another person to cause that person to take some action or refrain from taking some action. This is particularly relevant to cases involving undocumented workers who are controlled through threats to report to immigration enforcement or police.


Section 1589. a) Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person—

(1) by threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint against, that person or another person;

(2) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if the person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint; or

(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or the legal process,

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If death results from the violation of this section, or if the violation includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or the attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, the defendant shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or life, or both.


Law / United States / Trafficking Victims Protection Act and its Reauthorizations

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and its Reauthorisations implement an extensive range of measures designed to combat human trafficking, forced labour and slavery, and to protect the rights of victims. The measures include: the criminalisation of ‘sex trafficking’ and trafficking for the purpose of forced labour; the provision of ‘T visas’ to some victims of trafficking and their families; provision for restitution and civil remedies for victims; and the creation of the ‘Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons’ which monitors and evaluates the efforts of the U.S. and other countries in preventing and prosecuting human trafficking and protecting victims.