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Challenges to addressing trafficking into forced labor in Chile: a legal culture perspective

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The meanings of “human trafficking” vary according to political, legal, and sociocultural contexts. This article contributes to understanding the global variation and challenges in enforcing anti-human trafficking laws, by examining how Chilean law enforcement responded to suspected cases of trafficking into forced labor after the Anti-Trafficking Law was enacted in 2011. We present qualitative research on suspected cases of labor trafficking involving Indonesian women in the city of Punta Arenas, including interviews with suspected victims, prosecutors, plaintiff attorneys, anti-trafficking legal advocates, and Indonesian embassy representatives. We argue that four aspects of Chilean legal culture illuminate multiple challenges to identifying and prosecuting cases of labor trafficking in Chile: the perspective that cases of labor disputes and labor trafficking are mutually exclusive; the heterogeneous understandings and definitions of forced labor and human trafficking; the normalization of migrant labor exploitation; and the lack of coordination between relevant institutions and stakeholders. Examining these cases that were investigated between the years 2011 and 2019 allows us to identify the development of a specific legal culture regarding human trafficking into forced labor in Chile.

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The data generated and analyzed during the study are not publicly available due to the confidential nature of the study and participants’ identities, but some data can be available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  1. The New Migration Law 21.325 came into effect in February 2022. The law articulates a criminalization of migration, where article 168, for example, obliges the Public Ministry to inform the National Service of Migrations of the personal particulars and migration status of all migrants being detained for flagrant crimes. Criticizing this requirement, a Public Ministry staff member said, “I can perfectly imagine the political explanation (for this): to deport them from the country.”


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Research for this article was supported by the Chilean National Agency for Research and Development (ANID), Fondecyt grant number 11200270. We would like to thank all participants for their time and trust, in particular the Indonesian people who shared their experiences with us. We are very grateful for the work and support that anti-human trafficking NGO Libera provided during the research process. We also thank Isabel Araya, Tamara Bulicic, and Simon Muñoz for their research assistance and comments.

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Correspondence to Carol Chan.

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Chan, C., Gomez, N. Challenges to addressing trafficking into forced labor in Chile: a legal culture perspective. Crime Law Soc Change 79, 395–416 (2023).

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