Thai workers were physically abused and forced to live in rat-infested housing after being recruited by a labour contractor, based in Los Angeles, to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington, according to a US lawsuit.
In a case echoing John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it was the largest human trafficking case to date pursued by the agency against the agriculture industry.
Global Horizons lured Thai workers to the US between 2003 and 2007 with promises of highly paid jobs and temporary visas. It charged recruitment fees of up to $25,000 (£15,000) which the workers often borrowed at home, putting their families in extreme debt, and then confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained about conditions, commission officials said.
The workers were paid very low wages, lived in dilapidated, rat-infested rooms – where many did not have beds – and were often threatened and physically abused in the fields. The EEOC is seeking back pay and up to $300,000 in damages for each worker. Lawyers said they could not estimate how much was owed in wages and expected the number of workers in the case would increase.
Global Horizons could not be reached for comment.Reuse content