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4 Hawaii farms settle Thai workers suit for $2.4M

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:04 p.m. HST, Jun 03, 2014

Four Hawaii farms are settling a discrimination lawsuit for a total of $2.4 million over allegations that they exploited hundreds of Thai workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 against California-based labor contractor Global Horizons and six Hawaii farms, with allegations including subjecting workers to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats.

Mac Farms of Hawaii will pay $1.6 million, Kelena Farms will pay $275,000, Captain Cook Coffee Co. will pay $100,000, and Kauai Coffee Co. will pay $425,000, according to settlement agreements made public Tuesday.

A judge recently found Global Horizons liable for the discrimination and abuse of the workers.

Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. settled for $1.2 million, the EEOC announced last year. Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Co., the last farm that hasn't settled, are scheduled to go to trial in November, said Anna Park, EEOC Los Angeles regional attorney, who traveled to Honolulu with other agency staff to announce the settlement details.

All of the $3.6 million in settlement funds will go directly to the workers, Park said, in a distribution process that involves determining who worked on the various farms, for how long and the severity of the abuse workers suffered.

Likhit Yoo-on and Khamjuan Namwichai told reporters through a translator Tuesday about how they were recruited in Thailand to do agricultural work in the United States with promises of earning enough money to support their families.

Their passports were taken away. Yoo-on said he had to sleep on the floor and was forced to harvest bananas even when sick. Manwichai said he lived in a bug-infested house where 26 workers shared one bathroom.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit is that 20 Mac Farms workers were living in a Naalehu house approved for only five people, which was cited because it "lacked a functioning toilet, toilet paper, and hot water and had a buckling kitchen floor."

The lawsuit also alleges Micronesian workers at Maui Pineapple were treated better than Thai workers, whose living conditions included portable toilets and five shower heads for 70 workers. The Thai workers were forbidden from using the Micronesian workers' bathroom, the lawsuit states.

The contractor sought impoverished Thai nationals, who they stereotyped to be docile and compliant, Park said, and charged them fees ranging from $9,500 to $26,000. The overcrowded housing was often infested with bed bugs and some workers even resorted to making "primitive slingshots to catch chickens so they could eat," Park said.

Mordechai Orian, president and chief strategic officer of now-defunct Global Horizons, said by phone Tuesday that he doesn't believe any of the allegations.

"We're filing motions and everything to dismiss the case," he said. "It's a baseless case."

The Hawaii farms that settled did so out of fear and for business reasons. "It's a strategy of any businessman: If I'm making money, I'll pay something and move on," Orian said. "It's cheaper than paying lawyers."

Attorneys for the farms couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The farms also agreed to various anti-discrimination measures, according to the consent decrees on the settlements.

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Anonymous wrote:
Buy local, support local farmers who take advantage of Thai workers who pay human traffickers $15,000-$20,000 for the privilege of working like a slave and spraying pesticides that make them sick.
on June 3,2014 | 06:45AM
MariaBetty wrote:
So why did Aloun Farms have to prove their innocence without compensation while the guilty ones get away with fines.
on June 3,2014 | 10:14AM
EducatedLocalBoy wrote:
MariaBetty, the reason is that the "guilty ones" as you put are medium to huge agribusiness corporations while Aloun Farms is owned by immigrant Asians. America is controlled by large corporations that get away with crimes everyday.
on June 3,2014 | 10:34AM
1local wrote:
Aloun Farms Never exploited workers - The federal Government dropped the case and Never compensated Aloun Farms for the costs - Innocence costs more than pleading like the big companies mentioned and paying the fines....
on June 3,2014 | 01:48PM
medigogo wrote:
I'm wondering too. I didn't know they had problem with these other big companies too. So why was Aloan Farm singled out?
on June 3,2014 | 12:41PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Even with the settlements, these farms probably still profited by exploiting these people. Without severe punishment including jail time, people like these will likely do similar things in the future. Is this part of the well publicized "Aloha spirit"?
on June 3,2014 | 11:22AM
MrMililani wrote:
Buy local? I'm not so sure now.
on June 3,2014 | 11:24AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Even with the settlements, these farms probably still profited by exploiting these workers. Without harsh punishment, including jail time, these people will do similar things again in the future. Is this part of the well-publicized "Aloha Spirit"?
on June 3,2014 | 11:26AM
cojef wrote:
Exploiting Thai workers is akin to slave labor. Slave labor has been abolished since the Civil War. Unscrupulous employers without any social conscience whatsoever.
on June 3,2014 | 11:27AM
lokela wrote:
You wouldn't think stuff like that happens here other then Aloun Farms. But Mac Farms? These guys only thinking about profits and not human welware. Good for them.
on June 3,2014 | 11:56AM
1local wrote:
neva happened at Aloun Farms - just ask the federal prosecuter who was let go - case should neva have gone to court. The media should let the truth out - Aloun farms should get a public apology...
on June 3,2014 | 01:52PM
honupono wrote:
Buy local so we can exploit foreign farm workers. When I go to KCC market, I never purchase from Nalo Farms or Aloun Farms because of this subject. i prefer to buy at the stall next to the ginger farmer on the first left row. They are a family owned farm that carry awesome produce.
on June 3,2014 | 12:07PM
1local wrote:
Aloun Farms Never exploited workers - The federal Government dropped the case and Never compensated Aloun Farms for the costs - Innocence costs more than pleading like the companies mentioned and paying the fines....
on June 3,2014 | 12:42PM
honopic wrote:
Shop where you want, but get your facts straight. Aloun Farms was cleared of all charges 3 years ago, and the Sou brothers went back to what they love to do - farm. Nalo Farms has never been accused of exploiting workers. I get my produce at the KCC farmers' market every Saturday, and these are 2 of the 5 stalls I buy from. Their workers are friendly, helpful, and have aloha. While I'm at it, here's a tip on other pono vendors: Pit Farm and Theng's Farm. Just don't buy the last bag of Molokai sweet potatoes or Kahuku corn before I get there!
on June 3,2014 | 02:51PM
false wrote:
Wow. Some of these Thai workers made some dough here.
on June 3,2014 | 01:05PM
awahana wrote:
Human trafficking in Hawaii is huge and has been going on for decades.

So many are clueless. I once was also.

These Thai and Viet workers come to Hawaii and California for a better life.

But they get taken advantage of instead.

They cannot read the labels on the chemicals they spray, and are told to just mix until the melon, basil, etc. dies. Then you know the concentration is too high. That is what we are buying and eating, at the farmer's market, and supermarkets. Enjoy your pesticides that you think are safe and healthy.

They work without any masks, and the winds blow the chemicals into their lungs. Some have ended up at Castle Medical, and are 'escorted' out, buy their farm handlers, straight to HNL to be sent back on a one way ticket, as they're too sick to work anymore. Its like a movie. Killing Fields, of sorts.

Buy Local has been nicknamed 'Die Local' by those who are trying to stop this human trafficking problem in Hawaii nei. Its wrong, and we need to make Hawaii a safer place for everyone.

The reason the Sou brothers of Aloun Farms got away, is because the DOJ botched the case. You can find the details online.
on June 3,2014 | 04:22PM
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