Federal Agency Says Labor Contractor and Eight Farms Discriminated Against Hundreds of Thai Farm Workers Trafficked into Hawaii, Washington
LOS ANGELES - In its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms. The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC asserts that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.
The Thai workers were assigned to work at six farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms) and two farms in Washington (Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards), harvesting a variety of items from pineapples to coffee beans. The EEOC asserts that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers.
At some farms, the Thai workers were forced to live in dilapidated housing infested with rats and insects, with dozens sleeping in the same room, many with no beds. They were forbidden from leaving the premises. On the job, they endured screaming, threats and physical assaults on the part of supervisors, and were isolated from non-Thai farm workers who appeared to be working under more tolerable conditions, says the EEOC. Bound by their debts, stripped of their identification and silenced by the perpetrators, the Thai workers had little recourse until the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles brought victims to the EEOC to file charges of discrimination.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd. et al. Case No. CV-11-00257-DAE-RLP) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Green Acre Farms, Inc. et al, Case No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit argues that the alleged conduct constitutes retaliation, national origin and race discrimination which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further abuses at the companies and farms.
“Human trafficking is one of the most insidious forms of discrimination,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “The EEOC is committed to holding employers accountable for benefiting from the modern day enslavement of workers from other countries.”
Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, added, “Foreign workers should be treated as equals when working in the U.S., not as second class citizens. All workers - foreign and U.S. - are protected under the law and have the right to complain of such employment abuses which poison the moral fabric of our society.”
In a related development, the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office filed another labor trafficking case today against Signal International LLC. In that suit the EEOC contends that Signal International discriminated against approximately 500 male Indian workers who were trafficked to work as welders, pipefitters and ship-fitters in Mississippi and Texas. These lawsuits follow a Commission meeting held on Jan. 19, 2011, examining the problem of human trafficking in employment.
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.