LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal agency has sued a California-based labor contractor and farms in Washington and Hawaii alleging discrimination against more than 200 Thai workers in what was called its largest human trafficking case in agriculture.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits Tuesday against Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons Inc. and six farms in Hawaii and two in Washington.
Global Horizons lured workers from 2003 to 2007 with promises of steady jobs and agricultural visas but confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained, the agency said in a statement.
It said workers faced abuse and threats while being provided dilapidated housing.
The agency is seeking back pay and damages.
Global Horizons could not be immediately reached for comment because the phone numbers listed on its website were not working.
Thai workers at times were forced to live in rat-infested rooms where many workers did not have beds, the federal agency said.
They were forbidden from leaving, assaulted by supervisors and isolated from non-Thai workers who appeared to be working under different conditions, the agency said in its statement.
“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,” said Olophius Perry, district director for the commission’s Los Angeles district office.
Global Horizons recruited Thai workers to come to the United States under the federal government’s agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.
Six Global Horizons recruiters were indicted last year in federal court in Hawaii on charges of luring hundreds of workers from Thailand with promises of lucrative jobs before confiscating their passports, failing to honor their labor contracts and threatening to have them sent home.
The indictment said Global Horizons supervisors charged impoverished Thai workers between $9,000 and $26,500 in recruitment fees to secure jobs in the United States.
They threatened to send the workers back to Thailand when they complained about a lack of work and poor living conditions, knowing many would be afraid to return because of the substantial debts they undertook to finance the trip, court papers said.