Human trafficking is a term for a person or group holding another person for compelled service. Related common terms include involuntary servitude and forced labor. Human trafficking is a serious problem in almost every country in the world and the United States is no exception. The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2011 published by the Department of State indicates that the U.S. is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Most often, the U.S. is a destination for trafficking networks to bring foreign nationals to use them for labor or sexual exploitation. Trafficked workers are often forced to work long hours for little to no wages, no benefits, and few workplace safety guarantees. Many workers have little option but to continue the forced labor because they are either not properly documented to be in the U.S. or because their so-called employment recruiters hold their relevant papers hostage.
Trafficking in Oregon
In recent years, Portland has become a hub for human trafficking among western states. Furthermore, Oregon was identified as one of the twelve states with the weakest human trafficking laws. Groups such as the Oregon Human Trafficking Project and Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans work to strengthen the state’s trafficking laws and increase services for victims.
EEOC’s Fight Against Trafficking
Human trafficking is a serious crime, however prosecutors sometimes have difficulty proving criminal trafficking charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Even in cases with relatively strong evidence, juries were not convicting some accused traffickers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has joined in the fight to thwart labor trafficking and exploitation by bringing wage and hour violation claims against suspected traffickers in civil court. Trafficking for forced labor usually involves a series of violations, such as withholding wages, excessively deducting from wages, excessive work hours, and inadequate workplace safety measures.
When the EEOC brings a civil labor law action, it must only prove the violation by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the jury must only believe there is at least a 51% chance the party violated the law. This 51% standard is much easier to achieve than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore more traffickers are being held accountable for their actions.
The EEOC has also warned non-traffickers to ensure they are adequately paying foreign nationals. Something as seemingly simple as failing to pay withholding taxes for a nanny could lead to labor law claims. In fact, two candidates for attorney general in the last decade were excluded from consideration for similar violations regarding in-home nannies. Most importantly, if you are a worker and believe your employer is abusing or taking advantage of you by withholding earned wages, you should contact an experienced employment attorney in Oregon as soon as possible.