Victims of human trafficking have been found in sales crews or peddling and begging rings, where they work long hours each day soliciting money or selling products such as magazine subscriptions, trinkets, or cleaning products. Traffickers confiscate most or all of the victim’s earnings make the victims dependent on the controller for transportation and housing. Begging and peddling rings may include U.S. citizens, immigrants, adults, or children.
Sales crews typically recruit U.S. citizen youth ages 18 to 25, with promises of travel, a care-free life, and the ability to make a lot of money. A "crew" consists of an average of 3 to 40 youth, under the direction of a manager, who moves the crew from city to city every few weeks. Crewmembers receive a small daily stipend of $8 to $15 or less, to cover the cost of meals and personal items. Violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, pressure tactics, and abandonment in unfamiliar cities are common.
When does it become trafficking?
Peddling and begging rings and sales crews become trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to stay and continue to work. Common elements of force, fraud, or coercion used in trafficking in sales crews include:
Force: Isolation and removal from familiar surroundings; physical and sexual abuse; abandonment for non-compliance; intentional dehydration and overexposure.
Fraud: False promises of an opportunity to travel the country and earn money quickly; misrepresentation the work, working conditions, wages, or immigration benefits; visa fraud.
Coercion: Elaborate systems of rewards and punishments; threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring victim vulnerabilities within sales crews and begging rings. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Removal from Familiar Settings: Youth and young adults who sign-up for a sales crew job are quickly removed from familiar surroundings and are kept isolated from their social support network of friends and family. If a crewmember is non-compliant with crew rules or fails to make daily sales quotas, he or she risks being left behind by the crew in an unfamiliar city with no money to get home.
Targeted Recruitment from Economically Marginalized Populations: Begging and peddling rings often target immigrants who are vulnerable to exploitation due to language barriers and a lack of alternative job options. In one case, traffickers recruited deaf and mute Mexicans to sell $1 trinkets in New York City. Sales crews target youth and young adults, many with low levels of income and formal education. Often victims have a history of or are vulnerable to homelessness.
Traffickers conduct their trafficking operations in a wide range of industries, utilizing both legitimate and illegitimate venues and means of operation. Various industries are faced with challenges or weakness that can be used by traffickers as enabling factors for human trafficking. Examples of recurring vulnerabilities within this industry include (and are not limited to):
Lack of Labor Protections: Sales crews are structured so that crew members are classified as independent contractors, thus shielding the companies from regulation, taxes and liability. Furthermore, as outdoor sellers crew members are exempt from most federal and state minimum wage and overtime requirements. State level investigations and prosecutions are often hampered by the fact that crew members are rarely allowed to work in their home state, and the crews move frequently from state to state.