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Trafficker Caught on Camera Selling Families into Bondage

A stunning case of labor trafficking in Odisha has revealed the greed of middlemen who exploit the poor and traffick them into forced labor.

Millions of impoverished people from Odisha migrate for work every year—often finding jobs through recruiters (called sardars) who offer cash advances to work in other states.

In this case, a brick kiln owner in the nearby state of Telangana hired a middleman to find workers for his upcoming brick-making season and gave the man a lump sum of three million rupees (about $41,000) to use as advance payments for the laborers.

By October 2020, this middleman had recruited 47 laborers from Odisha to work at the kiln. He promised to give them 41,000 rupees each (about $560), and they agreed to travel to the worksite with their families.

Yet once the laborers arrived at the kiln and started working, the middleman absconded with all of the cash without telling anyone. He had, essentially, sold the families into labor exploitation. The laborers started working 14-hour days at the kiln—assuming they would soon receive a salary—and the kiln owner kept them busy, assuming they had already been paid.

After three months, the families realized they had been tricked and confronted the kiln owner. He also recognized the deception and showed them a video of the middleman accepting bags of cash he thought had been their advances. However, he kept the laborers working long hours in the kiln to get the work he was promised.

Shocked, angry and confused, the laborers managed to share the video clip with a journalist back in Odisha and begged for assistance. This journalist was familiar with IJM’s work on bonded labor, so he quickly alerted our team and local police.

IJM helped government officials from Odisha coordinate with their counterparts in Telangana to investigate the kiln and confront the owner. After confirming the facts of the shady deal, the owner agreed to help the families return home at his own expense. On Wednesday, January 20, they reached their villages safely and will begin the process of recovery.

“[The laborers] had no complaint about the owner and kept repeating that the owner paid from his expenses for their food and other requirements,” shared one IJM staff member. “However, they were furious about being cheated by the middleman and want him arrested.

Odisha police have filed an official report against the middleman and are currently pursuing his arrest. Authorities in Telangana are also investigating the brick kiln owner and will take action to ensure he cannot enslave other people.

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