comscore Feds say firm abused Thai farm workers in Hawaii, Washington | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Feds say firm abused Thai farm workers in Hawaii, Washington

    Kay Buck, left, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery Trafficking, speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 20, 2011, to announce the filing of a human trafficking lawsuit that stretches across California , Hawaii, and Washington. Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC in the Los Angeles District, center, and Chanchanit Martorell, executive director for the Thai Community Development Center, listens in.(AP Photo/Nick Ut)

The U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission said it filed lawsuits Tuesday in Hawaii and Washington state against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms, including six in Hawaii.

The agency said Global Horizons brought more than 200 men from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington, where they were subjected to severe abuse.

The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, the EEOC said.

The agency said the Thai workers were assigned to work at these farms in Hawaii: Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Farms.

The Washington state farms named in the lawsuits are Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards.

The lawsuit follows criminal charges brought against Global Horizons last year. The U.S. government in September indicted Global Horizons owner Mordechai Yosef Orian and others with exploiting about 400 Thai workers in forced-labor conditions from May 2004 to September 2005.

An updated indictment in January alleges Mordechai and others exploited about 600 farmworkers from 2001 to August 2007, transporting them first from their native Thailand, then shuttling them between farms in Arizona, Hawaii, Mississippi, California, Utah and New York.

In the lawsuits announced today, The EEOC said that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai men to work on 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 men had to pay high recruitment fees, creating an insurmountable debt for the workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, the EEOC?said.

At some farms, the workers lived in dilapidated housing, with dozens sleeping in the same room, many with no beds, the EEOC?said. Their supervisors forbid them to leave and subjected them to screaming, threats and physical assaults.

The Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles brought victims to the EEOC to file charges of discrimination.

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.

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