LOS ANGELES – A federal agency has filed lawsuits claiming Thai workers were physically abused and forced to live in rat-infested housing after being recruited by a California-based labor contractor to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it was the largest human trafficking case to date pursued by the agency in the agriculture industry.
The two lawsuits filed Tuesday involved 200 workers in Washington state and Hawaii against Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons, Inc., along with six farms in Hawaii and two in Washington.
“Global subjected the claimants to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food and kitchen facilities, inadequate pay, significant gaps in work, visa and certification violations, suspension, deportation, and/or physical violence,” the legal action states.
Global Horizons lured Thai workers to the U.S. between 2003 and 2007 with promises of steady jobs and agricultural visas, then confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained about conditions, commission officials said.
The workers lived in dilapidated, rat-infested rooms – where many didn’t have beds – and were often threatened and physically abused in the fields, officials said.
Global Horizons could not be immediately reached for comment.
The EEOC is seeking back pay and up to $300,000 in damages for each of the workers.
Six Global Horizons recruiters and two Thai labor recruiters were previously indicted in federal court in Hawaii on charges of luring 600 workers from Thailand with promises of lucrative jobs before confiscating their passports and failing to honor their labor contracts.
Defendants cited in the latest EEOC lawsuits include Captain Cook Coffee Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms Inc., Mac Farms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Co., all in Hawaii, along with Valley Fruit Orchards of Wapato, Wash., and Green Acre Farms of Harrah, Wash.