In recent weeks, neighborhood watch groups have warned community members to be vigilant for higher incidents of burglary and fraud that occasionally coincide with the seasonal influx of magazine solicitors operating without permits from out of state. But what these watch groups fail to address are the dangers posed not just to consumers, but the solicitors or salespeople themselves and the potential for human trafficking in traveling sales crews.
Traveling sales crews refer to groups of individuals, typically young U.S. citizen adults, who travel from city to city or state to state at regular intervals, selling products as employees of a specific company. They frequently sell door to door in residential neighborhoods and commercial districts near city centers. Their products often include magazines, cleaning products, candy, household products, vacuums, and books.
So why is this network of growing concern?
As an industry borne out of the Great Depression, traveling sales crews have a long history in the United States. The advent of “no call lists” in the last decade forced many solicitors and subscription-based companies to rethink their direct marketing strategies and have had the unintended effect of boosting door-to-door sales. Many companies contract out to independents for this service, which gave rise to negligent hiring practices, contractors operating with little oversight, and the creation of scams trying to make a quick buck.
A quick search of the internet turns up a trove of websites testifying to the horrors of traveling sales crews and related schemes with interviews from former crew members detailing the exploitation and violence they endured at the hands of their traffickers, and others who were abandoned on the road for failing to meet their quotas.
A typical crew is comprised of 30 to 50 young adults, ranging in age from 16 to 28 years old. Recruitment most often occurs through word-of-mouth, peer recruitment by existing crew members, and alluring advertisements in newspapers or magazines. These “too good to be true” ads offer an array of false promises, such as “get rich quick” or award schemes, opportunities to travel cross-country in luxury, and promises of a fun work environment with other young adults.
Indiscriminate of race or gender, these recruitment methods are designed to exploit vulnerable populations. Their most frequent targets include runaway or homeless youth, displaced persons in the wake of natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina or the recent tornadoes that ripped through the Southern states), the unemployed or individuals from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, and young adults with “nothing to lose.”
After the initial honeymoon period, “rookie” crew members are required to shadow a more experienced trainer, who grooms them on how to make sales and adhere to the strict rules regarding what they are allowed/not allowed to say to outsiders. Individuals are often required to hand over all or most of their earnings and often have daily quotas that are strictly enforced. These crew members are entirely dependent on the operator – who stands to rake in an estimated $50 million annually – for basic necessities, such as transportation, food, and housing. Violence, sexual assault, pressure tactics, and abandonment in unfamiliar cities are common means to coerce individuals to comply with the crew leader’s requirements and quotas.
As April showers give way to sunny skies and you spend more time outdoors, learn the signs of human trafficking and think twice before buying from traveling sales crews. If you suspect a potential case of trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or notify local law enforcement if there is an immediate risk to the salesperson.
Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete