On billboards across Sacramento, three pairs of black-and-white graphics speak directly to victims of labor trafficking: “Has your boss threatened you?” they ask in both English and Spanish.
The advertisements are part of an anti-human-trafficking campaign set to roll out across the Sacramento region Thursday. Polaris, a nonprofit aiming to eliminate modern slavery, is collaborating with advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor to display ads on 22 local digital billboards over the next month.
Labor trafficking “involves the recruitment, harboring, or transportation of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A form of modern-day slavery, labor trafficking often flies under the radar when compared to sex trafficking, said Caroline Diemar, National Hotline director for Polaris.
Polaris chose to stage the campaign in Sacramento in part because they’ve received and addressed 31 reports of labor trafficking in the region over the past 10 years, Diemar said.
(That number isn’t necessarily representative of local labor trafficking rates, but rather reflects the number of victims who were aware of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and comfortable enough to dial it, according to Diemar.)
Agriculture-related labor trafficking is a particularly prevalent issue in California – strawberry, orange and marijuana farmers have been victims in recent years – but domestic workers and factory employees are common targets as well, Diemar said.
Vulnerable populations, such as undocumented immigrants, immigrants on temporary visas and runaway youths, face a higher trafficking risk, Diemar said.
The billboards were designed to avoid sensationalizing trafficking. Victims aren’t always tied up and bound like they are on TV, Diemar said. Oftentimes, legal intimidation and more subtle means of extortion, rather than physical violence, force laborers into involuntary servitude, Diemar said.
Polaris emblazoned the National Human Trafficking Hotline on its advertisements: (888) 373-7888. The number is a catch-all for victim and survivors, community members with tips or inquiries, and local authorities looking for resources, Diemar said. Staffers are available to answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week in multiple language, Diemar added.
“Hopefully some victims might see these billboards and recognize, ‘I can call out for help,’” Diemar said.
Clear Channel Outdoor, an advertising company that has partnered with Polaris on a variety of media campaigns, controls 22 digital billboards distributed throughout the Sacramento region on which the ads will run.
Collaborating with Polaris on the anti-trafficking ads is part of the company’s commitment to social responsibility, said Jason King, a senior vice president with Clear Channel.
“We’ve been doing these campaigns since 2013,” King said. “We have seen in the past that victims have called the numbers and have been rescued and brought to safety. We know it’s working.”
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said he’s delighted that the digital billboards are being used for a “critical public service announcement.”
“While we may think that slavery is a concept to reflect upon, that it happened hundreds of years ago, it continues to this day under the guise of illegal human trafficking,” Serna said.
Sacramentans may have noticed the ads flash on some area billboards earlier for technical testing earlier in the week.
King and Serna will join representatives from Polaris, a local nonprofit called Opening Doors, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg to officially commence the campaign beneath a Clear Channel digital billboard at Madison Avenue and Highway 80 at 10 a.m. Thursday.
During Steinberg’s tenure as a California state senator, he authored two bills related to trafficking.
SB 1193, signed into law in 2012, requires businesses commonly associated with sex trafficking, such as bus stations and truck stops, to post bilingual warning signs with contact information for trafficking victims.
SB 657, signed into law in 2010, mandates that large retailers and manufacturers disclose their efforts to eradicate trafficking from their direct supply chains.