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Chair Jenny R. Yang's Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Secretary Kerry. Thanks to members of the Advisory Council, to the Presidential Award recipients, and to everyone in the room for your leadership on this issue.

When workers are trafficked, they may also be victims of employment discrimination. Laws enforced by the EEOC, particularly those prohibiting discrimination on the bases of race, national origin, and sex, including sexual harassment, are an integral part of the fight against trafficking. Civil enforcement can be a vital tool to vindicate rights and obtain remedies for victims.

Last year, the EEOC resolved two lawsuits involving hundreds of victims of labor trafficking who were subjected to race and national origin discrimination at work.

  • In the EEOC's lawsuit against Global Horizons in Washington state, a court ordered the company to pay more than $7 million to 67 Thai farmworkers who had been subjected to harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court recognized that the workers had been subjected to "fear, . . .intimidation, humiliation, shame, and … an unrelenting sense of imprisonment." In a companion case in Hawaii against Global Horizons and five farms, a court earlier awarded over $12 million in total damages for 82 workers there.
  • In another EEOC case, Signal International, LLC, a ship building and repair company, agreed to pay $5 million to resolve a race and national origin discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 476 workers recruited from India through the federal H-2B guestworker program. These individuals lived in segregated labor camps in Texas and Mississippi in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The workers alleged that the company and its agents lured them with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent residents in the U.S. Instead, when they arrived, they were subjected to forced labor and discrimination.

In addition to our enforcement, outreach has been an important focus for the agency. Last year, EEOC partnered with community-based organizations devoted to anti-trafficking work and conducted more than 180 anti-trafficking outreach events, reaching more than 12,000 attendees. We also trained staff and representatives of state and local fair employment practice agencies on identifying and developing trafficking cases.

Moving forward, combatting trafficking will remain a priority for the EEOC. Last month, the agency approved an updated Strategic Enforcement Plan that continues to prioritize issues affecting vulnerable workers, including victims of human trafficking.

President Obama has called the fight against trafficking "one of the great human rights causes of our time." This administration has made important progress in the fight against trafficking. Thank you to everyone on the PITF for your leadership. Much work remains in the years ahead, and the EEOC looks forward to continuing to work with all of our partners across the federal government. Thank you.