HONOLULU (CN) - The EEOC sued a California labor contractor and six Hawaiian farming companies in what the agency calls the largest farm-related human trafficking case in its history. Global Horizons, the recruiter, has abused labor laws since at least 2003, the EEOC says in its federal complaint.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission says Global Horizons recruited more than 200 poor "victims" from Thailand, charged them exorbitant recruiting fees, then sent them to work in intolerable conditions.
The pay was inadequate, their passports were confiscated, the workers were threatened with arrest, deportation, and physical violence, they were stuffed into uninhabitable housing "infested with rats and insects," fed poorly, and if they complained they were fired, the EEOC says.
Global Horizons dba Global Horizons Manpower aka Agri Labor is based in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. According to the company website, it recruits "quality workers from diverse places like Thailand, India, Nepal, Israel, as well as Eastern and Western Europe" and brings "those workers to any economy where domestic labor is in short supply because of the 'economic evolution' occurring in that particular country. This, of course, includes the United States of America. ... Too, it understands the aspirations of countless workers who dream of having better jobs in better places, but who wish to return to their country of native origin when they've completed the job."
But the EEOC says that's not quite the story.
The agency also sued Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Co. aka Maui Pineapple Farms.
The EEOC says Global Horizons also sent "victims" to two farms in Washington state, Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards. The EEOC filed a separate complaint there.
In the statement in which the EEOC called its enforcement action the largest farm-related case in its history, it added "that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers."
The EEOC seeks injunctions, back pay, restitution and expenses for the workers, including their "recruitment fees, relocation expenses, job search expenses and medical expenses," damages for their pain and suffering and humiliation, and punitive damages for the companies' malicious or reckless conduct.
"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 said in announcing its lawsuit.
In a separate, but similar case, the EEOC sued Signal International in Birmingham, Ala., Federal Court, claiming it abused 500 workers from India, "who were trafficked to work as welders, pipefitters and ship-fitters in Mississippi and Texas."
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