HAWAII – Four years after Global Horizons was implicated in the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history, a federal judge has found the California labor-contracting company liable for harassing, discriminating against and retaliating against more than 500 Thai laborers working on Hawaii farms.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the case against the company after years of investigating its poor treatment of Thai workers.
Mordechai Orian, CEO of Global Horizons, told Civil Beat Monday that he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t yet read the court’s decision.
The EEOC’s civil case follows a failed criminal prosecution against Orian and other executives managing farms in Hawaii.
The Department of Justice launched a case against Global Horizons in 2010 that was billed as the biggest human trafficking case in U.S. history. But federal prosecutors dropped the charges in 2012 after it was revealed that the prosecutor misstated the law in front of the grand jury.
At the time, Orian called the case “a malicious prosecution.”
But Global Horizons didn’t dispute any of the facts presented by the EEOC in its civil suit.
In a decision filed last week and announced by the EEOC on Monday, the court found that the company was responsible for exploiting Thai employees by charging them recruitment fees that drove them into debt in order to make them vulnerable to abuse. The company also threatened them with violence or deportation if they tried escape, the judge found.
One field supervisor even threatened workers with a gun and a baseball bat to enforce curfew, and hit one laborer with a stick to get him to work faster. Another told the laborers that if they ran away, they would be arrested, deported or shot, according to the court decision.
The court also found that Orian specifically chose poor workers from Thailand who didn’t speak English because he thought that they would be more compliant than people of other races.
While the company also employed Micronesian and Filipino workers, the Thai workers were forced to work more hours at lower pay and were denied breaks and adequate food.
A trial scheduled for Nov. 18 will determine how much Global Horizons should compensate the workers.
Anna Park, an attorney from the EEOC, said that the commission will seek the maximum compensation for each victim under federal law, which is about $300,000 per person or $159 million for all 530 victims.
She said many of the victims still live in Hawaii and would like to move back home but can’t afford to do so.
The case is one of several that the organization brought against Hawaii farms involved in worker mistreatment.
In November, the EEOC settled its case against Del Monte Fresh Produce’s Hawaii subsidiary for $1.2 million.
The EEOC has also agreed to settle with four other Hawaii farms, including Captain Cook Coffee Company, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms and MacFarms of Hawaii, although the terms are still being negotiated.
The EEOC is still pursuing a case against Maui Pineapple Company.
Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said that she’s glad to hear about the case but that there’s still a long way to go to ensure justice for the victims.
“I think no amount of money is enough,” said Xian, who is also a congressional candidate. “The damage that it has done to the reputation of this country is irreparable and that has no price.”