Judge finds US labour contractor liable for abuse of Thai workers at Hawaii farms

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – A federal judge has found a U.S. labour contractor liable for discrimination and abuse of hundreds of Thai workers at Hawaii farms.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination labour laws, on Monday announced the ruling against California-based Global Horizons, which placed the workers at six farms across the state.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi’s ruling said Global Horizons officials inflicted various forms of abuse on Thai workers at a Maui farm, including slapping a worker in the head and throwing a worker against a wall. The ruling also cites other abuse, including workers being threatened with a gun and deportation.

The Honolulu judge’s decision came in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC in 2011. The suit against Global Horizons and six Hawaii farms also alleged farm workers were subjected to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food and inadequate wages.

The ruling said the company recruited Thai workers because they would be easier to exploit: “In addition, the EEOC has presented evidence that Global Horizons specifically chose Thai workers based on a stereotype that Thai workers would be more compliant and less likely to escape or cause other problems.”

Mordechai Orian, president of the now-defunct company, referred questions to his attorneys, who did not immediately provide comment to The Associated Press. Orian said he hadn’t yet read the ruling, which was filed last week.

A Nov. 18 trial has been set to determine the amount of money that Global Horizons will pay for the abuses, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. The company also will have to implement measures to prevent future abuse.

“The judge’s granting of judgment for liability vindicates the rights of the multitude of Thai farm workers who survived inhumane abuses and discrimination at the hands of their employers, who controlled not only their working conditions but where they lived, what they could eat and the basic right to move around freely,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the commission.

A federal judge in 2012 dismissed human trafficking charges against Orian and other associates. Authorities accused the company of manipulating 600 Thai workers it placed in farms across the United States.

One of the farms, Del Monte Fresh Produce, settled in November for $1.2 million. The commission said it is finalizing settlements with four other farms. The case against the sixth farm is ongoing.

A companion case in Washington state against Global Horizons and two farms there also is ongoing. The commission said trial is scheduled for Sept. 15.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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