When most people think of labor trafficking, they think of modern day slavery. They imagine that if a trafficker were to go to great lengths to secure human beings for illegal labor, they would work them as hard as humanly possible — and often a bit harder than that. This is true, and it happens all over the world, the United States included, but it is not always the case.

A tool that traffickers use for themselves is “debt bondage” which acts a lot like indentured servitude of old. The victim is endowed with a certain amount of debt and told they can work off that debt over a long period of time. They are often worked like slaves to pay this debt (getting paid with fractions of a paycheck, as well as having to pay for their own food and lodging), and will often never realistically pay it off.

However, some traffickers “underwork” their victims.

A system is built to trap the victims into debt bondage — to make them dependent on food, lodging, and other necessities in order to survive on a day-to-day basis, not to mention the need to pay off their debt. They are usually alongside a great number of people, all of which are in the same situation to the same trafficker. Each person there is vying to find work for the day, and sometimes they go a week or two without working. They are struggling just to scrape by, let alone pay any substantial fraction of their debts.