New Legal Action Against Hawaii Pineapple Farms for Trafficking Thai Workers

by Thailand Lawyer on April 22, 2011

By Kimberly Wied

We’ve been watching the Global Horizons case as it progresses for a while now. The newest development is that legal action is finally being pursued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Maui Pineapple Co. and five other large Hawaii farms and Washington state farms for violating the civil rights of Thai agricultural workers. Federal and State criminal actions were originally filed against the labor contractor, Global Horizons, alone.

On Tuesday, April 19th 2011, the federal government widened its crackdown with an EEOC class action lawsuit against California-based labor contractor Global Horizons along with the farms in Hawaii and Washington State that hired Global Horizons for its services.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that this case is the largest human trafficking case related to the agricultural industry ever pursued by the agency. See the Maui News for more information.

Global Horizons initially made the news headlines last September, 2010, after it was indicted by a federal grand jury in Honolulu on criminal charges of keeping workers from Thailand under involuntary servitude with insufficient housing, food, pay, and legal visa status, as well as charging the workers extremely high fees to be brought to the USA to work. Six Global Horizons recruiters, including the CEO Mordechai Orian Mordecha, were indicted in federal court in Hawaii for conspiracy to commit forced labor of Thai workers in illegal conditions. This criminal case is scheduled for trial this summer.

The lawsuit filings state that Global Horizons “subjected the claimants to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food and kitchen facilities, inadequate pay, significant gaps in work, visa and certification violations, suspension, deportation, and/or physical violence”.

Allegations further claimed that Global Horizons lured workers from Thailand with false promises of high paying jobs and legal US work visas to work in US farms from 2003 to 2007. Once the Thai workers arrived, Global Horizons confiscated their passports and threatened them with deportation if they complained about the conditions or threatened to inform authorities according to the charges.

The other defendants include Maui Pine, Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce (Hawaii), Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms, Mac Farms of Hawaii, and two farms in Washington State.

In its class action lawsuit, the EEOC is seeking back payment of workers’ salaries and up to $30,000 in damages for each Thai laborer involved in the scheme.

At the current time, at least 200 Thai citizens have been identified as falling victim to this scheme, however, several hundred more workers are expected to be identified as the case proceeds.

Authorities were alerted when a group of workers managed to escape from the people guarding them and found their way to unnamed nonprofit organizations which then helped them seek refuge and find legal help.

An investigation into the case showed that supervisors of the farms where the workers were employed either knew about the abuse or should have been aware of the abuse.

The Thai workers were brought to America by Global Horizons on the H2A visa program, which allows US farmers to hire guest workers if they are experiencing difficulty in hiring locals.

In another case being pushed forward at the same time as the Global Horizons case, the EEOC is seeking action against Signal International, a marine services company, for mistreating and discriminating against at least 500 Indian workers in Texas and Mississippi.

Related Documents:

T Visa for Victims of Human Trafficking

Thai Migrant Workers Exploited Abroad

US Immigration and Thai Sex Workers

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sam Martin April 26, 2011 at 07:44

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