On August 2, 1995, 72 Thai nationals were found working in conditions of slavery in a makeshift garment factory consisting of a row of residential duplexes in El Monte, California, just east of Los Angeles. This case is considered the first recognized case of modern-day slavery in the United States since the abolishment of slavery. It would serve as a wake-up call for the world to the global phenomenon of human trafficking and modern-day slavery and would begin the anti-trafficking movement in the United States with the Thai Community Development Center as its pioneer. The case would also lead to the passage of California laws to reform the garment industry and end sweatshop abuses through independent monitoring and a code of conduct and then eventually to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) passed by the United States Congress (later known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
1 The Beginning
2 Discovery and Freedom
As early as 1988, recruiters in Thailand were canvassing rural villages in the provincial parts of Thailand for garment workers. Many of the garment workers came from impoverished farming families and were eager to take any opportunity to better their life circumstances. Rotchana, one of the 72 workers discovered in the sweatshop, said she wanted to go to America so she could have a better life for herself and her children. She said the recruiter was kind and generous promising her a legitimate job that would enable her to quickly pay off the $4,800 loan she secured from the recruiter to pay for the plane ticket and processing fee to the United States.
Elsewhere in Thailand, many others were hearing the same story. They were taken to the airport and given expensive jewelry to wear so that they would appear to be wealthy tourists. Once the plane touched down, the recruiters took the jewelry, their passports and their money. They transported the workers to the El Monte complex—a row of two story buildings with boarded up windows and a fence surrounding the entire compound topped with barbed wire and spikes facing inward. Two guards armed with guns, knives and baseball bats patrolled the building twenty four hours a day.
Once at the El Monte complex, the Thai nationals were forced to sew clothing seventeen to twenty two hours a day. They were not allowed any contact with the outside world and their