Judge rules human trafficking lawsuit against Walmart suppliers to proceed
2016-11-12 14:50:54   copyfrom:    hits:

Working conditions at Thai shrimp peeling plants have been targeted by strong complaints (Photo: Solidarity Center
 

Working conditions at Thai shrimp peeling plants have been targeted by strong complaints. (Photo: Solidarity Center)

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Saturday, November 12, 2016, 02:50 (GMT + 9) 

 

A California federal court judge has ruled that a human trafficking lawsuit against four companies, all of which supply seafood to retail giant Walmart, can proceed.

The civil lawsuit, which had first been filed in June, was brought on behalf of seven plaintiffs who were recruited from rural Cambodia to work at factories in Thailand producing shrimp and seafood for export to the United States. However, these workers allegedly became victims of human trafficking, forced labour, involuntary servitude and peonage.

Court documents show that the defendants, whose motion to dismiss the suit was denied, sell their shrimp and seafood to large US.customers like Walmart, Rubicon Resources, LLCWales & Co. Universe Ltd as well as Thai corporations Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food.

The complaint states that the defendants were part of a joint venture that knowingly profited from trafficked labour in direct violation of both US and international law.

In this regard, the victims’ pro-bono representative, Agnieszka Fryszman, partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, welcomed the fact that in the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, Congress gave trafficked workers the tools they need to obtain justice when companies knowingly profit from forced labour in their supply chains.

“We are pleased that these claims can go forward in a US court and we look forward to proving our case at trial,” the attorney claimed.

The plaintiffs based their complaints on the United States Government Trafficking in Persons Report, human rights organizations and international organizations that have long highlighted the problems of trafficking and forced labour at the Thai shrimp and seafood factories that are part of the multi-billion dollar seafood supply chain.

Besides, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act authorizes victims of human trafficking to pursue a remedy against whoever knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in an act of trafficking or forced labour.

It has been officially revealed that in the case of the Cambodian villagers, each paid high recruitment fees to obtain jobs in Thailand and that several mortgaged family farmland and went deep into debt to finance the fees and travel costs, expenses they planned to repay with the promised wages.

But when they arrived at the Thai factory, the villagers learned that they would be paid less than promised and that their already meager wages would be further reduced by unexpected salary deductions for housing, fees, and other charges.

Furthermore, the men and women worked long hours in harsh conditions and were packed into crowded housing with inadequate sanitation facilities. When the villagers sought to leave the factory and return home, they were not permitted to do so. Instead, their passports were withheld and they were ordered to pay off the “fees they had incurred”—a condition made difficult, if not impossible, by the reduced pay and unexpected deductions.

The victims’ attorneys hope that through this lawsuit, it will be possible to hold accountable companies that allow human trafficking in their supply chain.

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