A settlement has been reached to pay hundreds of Thai workers who came to Hawaii in search of a better life.
On Thursday, Sept. 4, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi approved a $2.4 million settlement with four Hawaii farms for over 500 Thai farmworkers.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that the farmworkers were kept in debt bondage, housed in unsanitary facilities, threatened, and denied adequate food and water.
The settlement comes three years after a lawsuit was filed against farm labor contractor Global Horizons and six Hawaii farms.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Thai farm workers were contracted through Global Horizons to work at the farms sometime between 2003 and 2007 under the H2-A temporary visa program which required the farm workers to be provided food and housing aside from pay for work performed.
However, the commission said, exorbitant recruitment fees placed the Thai workers into a situation of debt bondage early on, and workers were then subjected to varying degrees of the denial or delay of pay, monitoring movements and confiscating passports, unfair production quotas, denial of adequate food and water, and unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions.
“The claimants speak of being denied of basic necessities such as food, water and inhabitable housing,” explained EEOC regional attorney Anna Park.
Four of the farms — Mac Farms of Hawaii, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms and Captain Cook Coffee Company — agreed to a settlement that involves $2.4 million in monetary relief, as well as job and benefit options, housing, and other provisions and reimbursements for more than 500 workers. The additional value of compensation is estimated at nearly $4.9 million.
“It’s been a really long time for the case and I am really happy that we have today,” said worker Likhit Yoo-on via a translator.
Federal officials say the workers in the suit get 100 percent of the money and the EEOC will monitor the terms of the job offers.
Del Monte Farm Fresh already settled for $1.2 million in November 2013, and the case against Maui Pineapple Company is ongoing.
The trial against Global Horizons in Hawaii is now set for November 18 to determine the amount of money the company will pay as well as the measures required to prevent future abuses.