Back in May, we urged cannabis businesses to be mindful of the U.S. prohibition on the importation of goods produced by forced labor. Our concern stemmed from the growing interest on the part of our cannabis clients in establishing operations in countries where they can take advantage both of suitable climate conditions and low labor costs.
Unfortunately, however, there is no need to look past America’s borders to find instances of forced labor. And a recently uncovered example of this despicable practice touches the cannabis industry.
Earlier this month, authorities in Oregon raided a cannabis farm where it is suspected human trafficking and forced labor were taking place. For someone who tracks and advises on forced labor issues around the world, the language in the news reports has a familiar ring to it. Phrases like “threat of harm to your family,” “not paid,” and “living in squalid conditions” sound like they have been pulled out of an exposé on human rights violations in a faraway land, but instead describe what is happening a few miles away from the Oregon-California border.
To be sure, forced labor in the United States is not exclusively a agricultural problem, as a previous Oregon case involving restaurants demonstrates. That said, agricultural work can be labor-intensive and take place in isolated locations. Moreover, many agricultural workers are undocumented, making them particularly vulnerable to abuses.
As both an ethical and legal imperative, cannabis businesses should ensure that their supply chains are not tainted by forced labor. For businesses that depend on imports, compliance can prove daunting, with supplier audits a near impossibility. While not entirely free of challenges, auditing a domestic supply chain is much easier. When they do things right, companies can have a considerable degree of certainty that their supply chains are clean.