Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor contractors charged with trafficking Thai farm workers

A federal grand jury in Hawaii has indicted six labor contractors in what Justice Department officials are calling the federal government's biggest human trafficking case. The matter involves 400 Thai agricultural workers. Here's an excerpt from the New York Times story:

The charges, prepared by Justice Department civil rights lawyers, were brought against the president, three executives and two Thai labor contractors from Global Horizons Manpower, which recruits foreign farm workers for the federal agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.

The indictment, which was unsealed Thursday in Hawaii, accuses Global Horizons executives of working to “obtain cheap, compliant labor” from guest workers who had been forced into debt in Thailand to pay fees to local recruiters. The company, according to the indictment, sought to “to compel the workers’ labor and service through threats to have them arrested, deported or sent back to Thailand, knowing the workers could not pay off their debts if sent home.”

According to the story, Global Horizons charged each worker as much as $21,000 to obtain the H-2A work visa, although these workers earned as little as $1000/year as farmers in their native Thailand. The indictment alleges that once the workers were in the United State--working in pineapple plantations in Hawaii or in orchards in Washington--their passports were confiscated by the contractors, who paid wages lower than the workers had been promised and kept housed the workers in shoddy conditions.

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