Is there forced labor in Oregon? New task force aims to find out

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has appointed a 16-member Labor Trafficking Task Force to study labor trafficking across the state and identify ways the Legislature and other leaders can tackle the issue. Appointees include Matt Swanson, political director of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, and Sonia Ramirez, Wage and Hour administrator for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and a former lobbyist for North America’s Building Trades Unions. The task force will be co-chaired by Oregon State Senator Kathleen Taylor, and in addition to organized labor will include immigration attorneys, law enforcement, district attorneys, representatives from the Mexican Consulate, and other state agencies.

Rosenblum announced the new task force Jan. 10 at the Oregon DOJ’s second annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day event in Salem.

“Human trafficking includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, but almost all of our public awareness focuses on sex trafficking,”  Rosenblum said. “What we hear so far is that labor trafficking is very real, and it is happening under the radar in all corners of the state. I want this task force to dig into this terrible crime. All sources suggest we lack the tools to identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking in our communities. We need to change that.”

Labor trafficking includes using threats of violence and coercion to force a person to work against their will, sometimes with no or little pay or inhumane conditions. Industries where labor trafficking may exist include domestic servants, farmworkers, factory workers, and other day laborers.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission there have been no prosecutions of labor trafficking under the relevant crime of “involuntary servitude” anywhere in the state.

The new task force will meet throughout 2020 and will make recommendations for consideration by the Oregon Legislature in the 2021 session.

“While significant work has been done to understand the impact of labor trafficking at the national level, there has been no organized attempt to gather information in Oregon. We hope to take a comprehensive view of the problem, and really look at how we can work to address this issue,” said Attorney General Rosenblum.

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