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Legislate against shadowy industry

Moving from state to state in today's world shouldn't be enough to keep you one step ahead of the law. It's time to shine a bright light onto a dim industry.

Oregon officials cannot do much to impede the nationwide operations of companies such as Integrity Program, a door-to-door magazine subscription outfit whose track record makes its name laughable.

But police chiefs, district attorneys, judges and elected officials can send a clear message that such practices won't be tolerated in our communities. These companies may move on to other states if they are harassed out of Oregon, but at least we could say our state stands firmly against a shadowy industry that forces people to work for less than minimum wage and subjects them to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

As reported in the Portland Tribune and The Outlook last week, these businesses sneak into the state unannounced with crews of young people and canvass neighborhoods, selling magazine subscriptions at inflated prices.

The workers, who the companies claim are 'independent contractors,' are recruited through misleading ads and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day while being paid $20 a day or less. The young people - typically 18 to 25 years old - believe they have no choice but to stay, because crew managers withhold their earnings and threaten them with retribution.

The articles published in the Tribune and Outlook were prompted by the story of two young women who finally broke free of Integrity Program while it was doing business in Gresham and Portland. Their tale of abuse and intimidation is backed up by public records that reveal a trail of infamy wherever this company and similar firms travel.

We would support legislation making it easier to shut these businesses down, but would point out that the companies already are apparently violating multiple existing laws.

The problem for law enforcement officials is that the companies roll into town under cover of darkness, sweep through neighborhoods and leave within days. The young people are from some other state, and no one has reason to care.

But we all are responsible for what happens to fellow human beings while they are in our communities.

When police hear reports of unscrupulous door-to-door sales companies operating in town, they should hit them with every ordinance or law available. Eventually, the message will get through: This is one type of business that's not welcome.