A federal judge has found a US labour contractor liable for discrimination and abuse of hundreds of Thai workers at Hawaii farms.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination labour laws, announced the ruling against California-based Global Horizons on Monday. The firm placed the workers at six farms across the state.
US 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 commission 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 [commission] 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. Orian said he had not yet read the ruling, which was filed last week.
A November 18 trial had been set to determine the amount of money that Global Horizons would pay for the abuses, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. The company will also 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.