By Sean Callebs and Jason Morris
It's an absolutely beautiful New Orleans sunset, the kind of night that used to be a bonanza for shrimpers like Paul Willis.
"We are trying to make a living, but because these foreign countries are using cheap labor, slave labor – call it whatever you want – we can't compete, we just can't compete. This pass on an evening like this would have had 300 vessels in here ready to shrimp. You are going to see eight tonight, that's what's happened to this industry."
Willis says the U.S. shrimp market has completely crashed. Fuel costs and Mother Nature may be a never-ending battle, but Willis says his biggest foe is cheap shrimp pouring in from Asia. He only makes as much per pound today as he did 15 years ago. While cut-rate Asian shrimp are sold for three dollars a pound, by the time he pays for fuel and crew wages, he's looking at spending more than four dollars to harvest a pound a shrimp just to break even.
A three-year investigation by the AFL-CIO affiliated Solidarity Center, funded in part by the U.S. State Department, found several leading U.S. retailers received shrimp from plants in Thailand and Bangladesh where workers as young as 8-years-old are subject to sweatshop conditions.
By Sean Callebs, CNN
She asked not to be identified. Her first name is Melissa. A victim who beat the odds.
“I thought I would be dead. I never thought I would live to be 22 or 24-years-old,” says Melissa. Her story begins when she was 17, living with another runaway, she says a pimp promised them a better life.
“He started to pay our rent. Pay our bills. Make sure that we had food in our house.” But he also – literally overnight – forced Melissa to trade sex in exchange, she tells us.
“Within a day, my whole life changed. I had to sleep with people. He would tell me where I had to be and when I had to be there.”
Human rights advocates tell us that right now there are about 25,000 young women in the United States who have been forced into sex trafficking. Along with the horror stories we hear of women brought into the U.S. from Asia, Latin America, and Europe, advocates tell us many of the young women forced into sex trafficking are runaways from right here in the United States.
Melissa’s story fits the profile. Trying to escape a broken home, she says she was sexually abused at young age. Pimps prey on women like her.
“It's a problem that's happening right here and it's happening to people’s daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. And it's plaguing every community in the United States,” says Luis CdeBaca, U.S. ambassador-at-large to fight human trafficking. He says it's time for the U.S. to step up its crackdown on sex trafficking with more aggressive investigations and prosecutions.
It's a problem hiding in plain sight: modern day slavery.
The State Department says up to 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year, usually women and children.
This next story puts a new face on the global crisis. 30 men who say they moved half way around the world for a shot at the American dream, but were tricked into a life of forced labor.
CNN's Sean Callebs reports for part one of our AM original series, "No Way Out? Human Trafficking."