EEOC Files Its Largest Farm Worker Human Trafficking Suit Against Global Horizons, Farms
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 (part of A&B), Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms (Part of ML&P)) 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.
* * * * *
EEOC Combats Labor Trafficking, Severe Abuse and Discrimination in Lawsuits Filed Today
Thai Farm Workers Trafficked to Hawaii and Washington, Indian Welders to Mississippi and Texas, Subjected to Intolerable Conditions, Commission Alleges
News Release April 20, 2011 from US EEOC
WASHINGTON - A labor broker in California, farms in Hawaii and Washington, and a marine services company in Mississippi and Texas subjected foreign workers to severe abuse and discrimination after they were trafficked into this country, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in three lawsuits filed today. These lawsuits follow a Commission meeting, held Jan. 19, 2011, on the issue of human trafficking and forced labor.
“The mistreatment of workers alleged in these cases is intolerable in our legal system,” said Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the EEOC. “These lawsuits highlight the critically important role that the EEOC must play in protecting the rights of victims of labor trafficking.”
The EEOC’s Los Angeles district office filed suit in Hawaii (Civ. No. CV-11-00257-DAE-RLP) against Global Horizons, the labor broker, and six farms there; and a separate suit filed in Washington (Civ No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS), against Global Horizons and two farms in that state, alleging that Global brought more than 200 Thai men into the country to work as farm workers on the promises of high-paying wages and temporary visas. Once in the country, the workers had their passports confiscated and were threatened with deportation if they complained. They were employed on the eight farms named in the two lawsuits, where they received low wages - far less than promised, forced into vermin-ridden housing, denied the opportunity to leave the premises, and subjected to harassment, including physical assaults, by their overseers. Further, the workers had to pay large sums to Global as recruitment fees, putting them and their families back in Thailand severely in debt, making it impossible for them to leave, even had they been permitted to.
In a separate suit, the Birmingham, Ala., office of the EEOC filed suit in Mississippi charging that Signal International, a marine services company with facilities along the Gulf Coast, subjected at least 500 Indian welders and pipe-fitters at its Mississippi and Texas locations to segregated facilities and discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. These workers, brought into the country by a separate entity not part of the lawsuit, were forced to live in Signal’s substandard, unsanitary accommodations, for which they were charged an inordinate amount, given unwholesome food, demeaned by being referred to by numbers instead of their names, and at least two of them were retaliated against for complaining about the substandard conditions and discrimination.
“The EEOC is committed to the protection of all workers. The lawsuits we have filed today seek to remedy systemic discriminatory practices against a particularly vulnerable class of workers,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. “When necessary, the EEOC will file such cases to protect victims of discrimination and ensure all workplaces comply with the law."
All three lawsuits were brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and national origin as well as retaliation. The EEOC filed suit in each instance after attempting to resolve the matter through settlement. In all, the Commission will seek back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information about the EEOC is available on its website, www.eeoc.gov.
* * * * *
A&B Response: No Evidence of Wrongdoing by Kauai Coffee Company
by Christopher J. Benjamin, Head of Agribusiness, Alexander & Baldwin:
We are disappointed that the EEOC continues to include our company in their claims against Global Horizons, Inc., despite years of our cooperation with their investigation against Global and without any evidence of wrongdoing by Kauai Coffee Company, Inc. We find the EEOC’s release announcing this lawsuit sensationalized and not based on facts relating to Kauai Coffee’s actions.
We have never been informed by any of the workers from Thailand, any governmental authority, or anyone else, that the Thai workers experienced any mistreatment while at Kauai Coffee.
We both cooperated with the Federal government’s investigation, and conducted our own investigation. Our investigation confirmed a strongly positive working relationship between the Thai workers and Kauai Coffee employees. We made multiple requests of the EEOC to identify specific acts of wrongdoing and have not received any information.
Therefore, we will vigorously defend Kauai Coffee Company in this lawsuit which is built on long-unsubstantiated claims relating to Thai workers provided by Global Horizons during the 2004 and 2005 coffee harvest season.
Under our contract with Global Horizons, we paid the company for each worker a wage rate which was established by the U.S. Department of Labor, plus an administrative fee for Global. Global was responsible for paying the workers.
The housing we provided to the Thai workers was inspected by OSHA and certified as meeting the government-required living conditions/standards and regulations. The housing was within walking distance to our headquarters and factory.
The Thai workers had no restrictions outside of work hours. They were free to come and go and to interact with our Kauai Coffee employees. They had access to all of Kauai Coffee lands, including reservoirs and the ocean, which they used for recreational purposes. Additionally, transportation was available to other locations on the island.
Two of the Thai workers who were formerly employed by Global Horizons have been directly hired by Kauai Coffee, as they have since obtained work clearances.
* * * * *
Statement from Captain Cook Coffee:
"Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd. is disappointed by the EEOC's decision to include Captain Cook as a defendant in its recently filed complaint. Captain Cook cooperated completely in the EEOC's investigation and provided the EEOC with all requested records, allowed the EEOC to inspect its farms, processing facilities, and worker housing, and to interview Captain Cook employees. Captain Cook's housing was in no way inadequate, having been approved by the State of Hawaii, Department of Labor before any Global Horizons workers came to Captain Cook, and the workers were allowed to come and go as they pleased.
Despite repeated requests, the EEOC has refused to identify any act by Captain Cook with respect to Global Horizon employees that was in any way discriminatory, retaliatory or otherwise improper. The EEOC has similarly refused to explain why it believes Captain Cook was aware of any mistreatment of the workers by Global Horizons. The complaint filed this week again offers no factual basis for any of the allegations against Captain Cook.
Captain Cook valued its positive relationship with the Global Horizons employees and provided them with a safe, fair, and respectful working environment. None of the Global Horizons employees reported to Captain Cook that they were being subjected to harassment or retaliation. If the allegations against Global Horizons are eventually proved to be true, then Captain Cook believes appropriate action should be taken to protect and compensate any individuals who were mistreated. We feel confident that when all the facts are known, they will demonstrate that Captain Cook did not mistreat the Global Horizons employees in any way, was unaware of any mistreatment by Global Horizons, and the allegations against Captain Cook will be dismissed. Captain Cook will not comment further on the lawsuit at this time due to the ongoing litigation."