Updated: May 21, 2021
What began as a labor dispute has spiraled into allegations of not only labor trafficking, but child labor trafficking as well.
According to UNICEF, the United States is one of the top destination points for child victims of trafficking, and lists construction sites as one of of the top industries in which children are exploited. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines labor trafficking as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery," and designated the offense as a federal crime.
Conversations between investigators and workers revealed an alleged pipeline of undocumented, underaged workers from Mexico were being trafficked to Wermers sites in San Diego.
One worker who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told an investigator, "The children are completely off the books. They don't exist. The bosses like it that way."
The worker also went on to say that the rate that these underaged workers were being paid was as low as just $4 an hour.
In what one of the demonstrators called, "just the first step," a bannering campaign was implemented in response to the alleged abuse. The demonstrator went on to say that, "all of this is a gross violation of human rights. It has been reported to authorities, and an investigation has begun."
A conviction in this case could not only incur legal and financial penalties, but it could also seriously damage the Wermers brand and their ability to get projects funded in the future.