Thai workers get multimillion-dollar EEOC settlement

THEIR STORIES: Thai worker Likhit Yoo-on, 43, from Sukhotai, Thailand reads a statement about the way he was treated as a Global recruit

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — Five hundred laborers brought to Hawaii from Thailand over four years are part of a multi-million dollar settlement, the result of a class action national origin and race discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011.

Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, Global Horizons Inc., supplied the workers for six farms.

Four of the six farms will pay a combined $2.4 million: Mac Nut Farms of Hawaii LLC will pay the most, $1.6 million; Kauai Coffee Co. Inc. will pay $425,000; Kelena Farms Inc. will pay $275,000; and Captain Cook Coffee Co. Ltd. will pay $100,000. Del Monte already agreed to a settlement of $1.2 million.

The settlement involves monetary relief and about 50 job offers, including housing.

Farm owners must now hire a third-party monitor, train managers and supervisors, post signs about worker rights in a language they can understand and undergo audits.

The only farm remaining, Maui Pineapple Co., is fighting the charges. Global Horizons continues to maintain no wrongdoing. Both will go to trial in Honolulu in November.

The most recent settlement was reached just two months after U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi issued an order in the case — EEOC v. Global Horizons Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower Inc. — and found Global Horizons Inc. liable for “harassing, discriminating, and retaliating against hundreds of Thai workers in the U.S., in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.”

Kobayashi also detailed the “exploitation, physical abuse, and barbaric security measures” at the Maui Pineapple Co. plantation and housing facilities, where the workers lived.

LIABLE: Motty Orian’s company, Global Horizon, found liable for worker abuses in EEOC case, judge rules

While Global Horizons CEO Mordechai Orian continues to lash out at the EEOC, maintaining the agency officials are “lying,” two Thai workers shared their stories.

Likhit Yoo-on, 43, of Sukhotai, Thailand, said he paid an $8,700 recruitment fee in 2005 for the chance to come to America to work as a farm laborer. He thought if he made $9 per hour and was given housing and food he would quickly pay off the fee and send money home to put his two daughters through school. He lived with 11 other Thai workers in a two-bedroom, one bath house, where he slept on the floor. He couldn’t afford to buy food and went hungry, he said. When sick he was forced to work and couldn’t run away because Global management held his passport.

Khamjuan Namwicha, 53, of Udon, Thailand, paid a $16,500 recruitment fee with money he borrowed from banks and family and came to America in 2004. Namwicha said he believed that, through hard work, he could make more money than he could as a rice farmer in his home country. In the U.S., he said, he shared housing and one bathroom with 26 other workers and rode to work in a crowded bus or dump truck.

“It is not what I was promised at all,” Namwicha said through a translator.

Prirom Krinsoongnoen, another Thai worker, said: “We worked and lived under terrible conditions, treated like animals in a cage. We were housed in an overcrowded place with a few rooms but many workers, and threatened almost daily.”

Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, said workers paid recruitment fees as high as $26,000, were forced to live in overcrowded housing, were abused, intimidated and denied necessities such as water and food. The exorbitant fees placed workers into debt bondage early on, Park said.

Some workers were so desperate they hunted for food and ate birds they caught using rubber bands and rocks, Park said.

The farm owners and managers not only knew about the way the Thai’s were treated but in some cases participated, Park said.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable workers are not denied basic human dignity and life-sustaining water and food. Farm and farm labor contractors — and the supervisors who represent them — must ensure all workers civil rights remain intact, no matter their race or the country they come from,” Park said.

Global Horizon CEO Motty Orian on the record with Watchdog reporter Malia Zimmerman

The EEOC’s announcement was held the same day a similar case against Global and a Washington State-based farm was dismissed in a Washington court, in the company’s favor.

“The Washington judge said there is no proof these allegations ever happened, so the case is over,” said Global CEO Mordechai Orian.

In an exclusive interview, Orian called EEOC’s Park “delusional” and a “slanderous, pathological liar.” He said none of the allegations against his company are true, calling the claims “garbage.”

“When people want to stay in America, they will say anything,” Orian said.

When asked about the workers’ claims about hunting their own food, he said, “You know what, I am speechless. Next you will tell me the workers were cannibals and eating each other because they had no food.”

Orian said hunting is a way of life on some Hawaiian islands, and there’s nothing wrong with that: “If they want to hunt birds, or hogs or monkeys, what is that to do with me? How crazy is this going to get?” Orian asked.

His company’s job was never to provide food, he said. Global gave workers money to buy food and drove them every week to the store, Orian said. The farmers also gave the workers food. In some cases, at Maui Pine, for example, Global provided a cook, Orian said.

Orian maintains the Department of Labor approved all housing.

Global Horizons shut down in 2006, Orian said, because of a licensing issue, and there was no interaction between Global and the workers after 2006.

“I feel sorry for the farmers. The EEOC is killing the only option the farmers have to have legal labor,” Orian said, noting many Hawaii farms are now using illegal labor and “everyone is looking the other way.”

While the EEOC case is strictly civil, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Division pursued a separate criminal against Global’s Orian in 2010, alleging he was responsible for the “largest human trafficking ring in recent history.”

Six Global Horizons employees were indicted criminally in September 2010, including Orian, three executives and two Thai labor contractors. On Jan. 14, a 10-count superseding indictment charged two other people in Los Angeles, Joseph Knoller and Bruce Schwartz, as co-conspirators.

Orian’s trial was set for Aug. 28, 2012, but in July 2012, after securing three guilty pleas from alleged conspirators, the federal government dropped the case, disclosing nothing about its decision.

Contact Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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