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Seafood exporters lawsuit (re human trafficking in Thailand)

Thailand-slavery-prawn-photo-credit-Guardian

In June 2016, seven Cambodian former employees at a Thai seafood factory that produces seafood for export to the USA filed a civil lawsuit in a California federal court against two US (Rubicon Resources LLC, Wales & Co Universe) and two Thai companies (Phatthana Seafood and SS Frozen Food).  The lawsuit also mentions Walmart as one of Phatthana Seafood’s customers.  While employed in the factory, the plaintiffs allegedly suffered from severe working and living conditions, underpayment, unlawful salary reductions, restrictions of movement and other serious abuses.  The lawsuit also alleges human trafficking, forced labour and servitude.  The companies filed a motion to dismiss the complaint arguing that the alleged conduct occurred outside the USA and the court did not have jurisdiction over the case.  In November 2016, the court denied the defendants' motion and ruled that the lawsuit can proceed.  

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Article
10 March 2017

Walmart shrimp suppliers in US human trafficking lawsuit say case was amicably resolved; Cambodian plaintiffs deny

Author: Men Kimseng, VOA Cambodia

"Cambodians, Speaking Out Against Thai Slave Labor, Seek Justice in United States", 9 Mar 2017

Thailand’s seafood industry has supplied the global market with about $7 billion dollars annually....The shrimp industry needs lots of manpower and has absorbed it from neighboring countries, including Cambodia, because Thai workers do not want to do the arduous work...Investigations...have revealed the human rights abuses in the Thai shrimp industry...Seven victims...filed a complaint to a US federal court in California in June against Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen...The civil lawsuit accuses the US and Thai firms of knowingly profiting from the villagers’ working conditions and violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act...The defense has argued that the case has already been amicably resolved...Sorphea...recalls seeing representatives from Cambodian embassy coming to the protests, but there was no resolution...An opposition lawmaker...said that Cambodian officials’ ability to provide support is still limited...“The problem we face is the lack of legal services to help our workers,” she said...“Frankly, the government should try their utmost to pay for the legal fees to at least set an example for our laborers who dare file a complaint when they fall victims of such an exploitation.”...

 

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Article
10 November 2016

California Federal Court Rules That Human Trafficking Lawsuit Against Walmart Suppliers Should Proceed

Author: Cohen Milstein

A California federal court judge ruled today that a human trafficking lawsuit against four companies, all of which supply seafood to retail giant Walmart, can proceed. The civil lawsuit, first filed in June, was brought on behalf of seven plaintiffs who were recruited from their home villages in rural Cambodia to work at factories in Thailand producing shrimp and seafood for export to the United States. Instead of the good jobs at good wages they were promised, the five men and two women allegedly became victims of human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude and peonage. The defendants had filed a motion in August asking Judge John F. Walter to dismiss the suit; that motion was denied this afternoon.

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Article
10 November 2016

Judge rules human trafficking lawsuit against Walmart shrimp suppliers can go to trial

Author: Ola Wietecha, Undercurrent News (UK)

A lawsuit against two US and two Thai firms that allegedly engaged in human trafficking as they supplied shrimp to retailers including Walmart can proceed to trial, a judge ruled. The civil lawsuit, brought in California federal court by seven Cambodians employed outside the US, accused the four companies of violating the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act and knowingly profiting from the villagers' working conditions. In August, the four companies -- US-based importers Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co. Universe, and Thai seafood companies Phatthana Seafood Co. Ltd. and S.S. Frozen Food Co. Ltd. – filed a motion in mid-August to dismiss the case arguing that because the alleged conduct took place outside the US, the matter shouldn't be heard in a US court.  Walmart, while referenced in a press release describing the matter, is not named in the lawsuit as defendant.  The suit states that the Cambodian villagers paid high recruitment fees but at the Thai factory were "paid less than promised and that their already meager wages would be further reduced by unexpected salary deductions for housing, fees, and other charges."...The defendants argued that the "extraterritorial reach of the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] extends only to criminal actions brought by the federal government, and not to private plaintiffs"..."Plaintiffs ask this court to construe the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] to impose liability on any US company that “benefits” from doing business with foreign companies in parts of the world that have arguably suspect labor practices. If plaintiffs are right, then the litigation floodgates would open, since virtually every US company benefits from international commerce," the filing said.

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Article
28 October 2016

Judge to decide if US lawsuit brought by Cambodian victims of trafficking against seafood importers will go to trial

Author: Ola Wietecha, Undercurrent News (UK)

"Judge to rule if US human trafficking lawsuit against Walmart suppliers can proceed", 25 Oct 2016

A civil lawsuit seeking damages caused by alleged human trafficking brought by seven Cambodians against two US and two Thai firms may move forward early next month...The suit, filed in June in a California federal court, accuses the firms, which are suppliers to retail giant Walmart, of knowingly profiting from the villagers' working conditions and violating the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act...[T]he four companies - US-based importers Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co. Universe, and Thai seafood companies Phatthana Seafood Co. Ltd. and S.S. Frozen Food Co. Ltd. – filed a motion in mid-August to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds...A hearing is scheduled for November 7, where Judge John Walter will decide whether or not to accept the motion to dismiss which will determine if the case goes to trial or not.  The plaintiffs filed a response to the dismissal...arguing that the case should move forward and that the defendants' reasoning was flawed...[T]he plaintiffs said that the defendants' failed to take into account changes that had been made to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2008...

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Article
9 August 2016

US seafood importers miss Judge’s deadline for responding to lawsuit brought by Cambodian victims of trafficking

Author: VOA on Big News Network

“Seafood Firms Ordered to Respond to Cambodian Workers' Complaint”, 4 Aug 2016

Two American importers missed a federal judge's deadline for responding to a complaint by seven Cambodian laborers allegedly exploited while working in Thailand's seafood industry.  Failing to comply with the order will result in a judgment favoring the plaintiffs…As of late July, the U.S. firms, Rubicon Resources and Wales amp; Co. Universe, had not responded to the complaint; their deadline passed last week…A law firm representing the…plaintiffs filed a complaint against the four companies on June 15.  The Cambodians were recruited from their rural villages…and became victims of "human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude and peonage"…Shocking levels of exploitation in Thailand's seafood industry have been exposed by journalists and human rights advocates in recent years.  The industry benefits from the copious supply of cheap labor that comes to Thailand, mostly from Cambodia and Myanmar…In the complaint, the victims demand damages because of loss of work opportunities, assets and education…

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Article
16 June 2016

U.S. lawsuit against seafood importers makes claims of human trafficking

Author: Sebastien Malo, Reuters

Rural Cambodian villagers have filed a lawsuit against four U.S. and Thai companies, accusing them of trafficking and making them work in forced-labor conditions in a Thai seafood factory.  Their civil complaint filed in California federal court accuses the four companies in a joint venture of violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act…Retailing giant Walmart purchases shrimp…according to the complaint.  The five men and two women filing suit in a Los Angeles court claim that after they left their homeland for Thailand, factory managers confiscated their passports and made them work up to six days a week for wages that were less than promised…The complaint claims the Cambodian workers were victims of involuntary and debt servitude, forced labor and human trafficking…The named companies include Rubicon Resources, incorporated in Delaware with an office in Culver City, California, and Wales & Co. Universe Ltd., incorporated in Thailand but registered to conduct business in California, the complaint said.  The two Thai companies are Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food…The workers are seeking an unspecified amount of money for unpaid wages, mental anguish, pain and suffering…

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Article
15 June 2016

Human Trafficking and Forced Labor Victims File Lawsuit Against California-based Seafood Importers

Author: Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on Globe Newswire

Victims of human trafficking in the multi-billion dollar seafood industry supply chain…filed suit in California federal court.  The seven plaintiffs were recruited from their home villages in rural Cambodia to work at factories in Thailand producing shrimp and seafood for export to the United States…[T]he five men and two women became victims of human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and peonage…The defendants sell their shrimp and seafood to large U.S. customers like Walmart and include California-based Rubicon Resources, LLC, and an affiliate, Wales & Co. Universe Ltd, as well as Thai corporations Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food…The Trafficking Victims Protection Act authorizes victims of human trafficking to pursue a remedy against whoever knowingly benefits…from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in an act of trafficking or forced labor…

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Article
15 June 2016

Ratha et al, Plaintiffs, vs. Phatthana Seafood Co., Ltd.; S.S. Frozen Food Co., Ltd.; Doe Corporations 1-5; Rubicon Resources, LLC; and Wales & Co. Universe Ltd., Defendants. Complaint for Damages

Author: Dan Stormer, Mary Tanagho Ross, Agnieszka Fryszman, Alysson Ford Ouoba, Anthony DiCaprio, Paul L. Hoffman & Catherine E. Sweetser, Cohen Milstein

This is an action brought by survivors of human trafficking. The Plaintiffs, villagers in rural Cambodia, were recruited for work at factories in Thailand producing shrimp and seafood for export to the United States.  Instead of the good jobs at good wages they were promised, the men and women became victims of human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and peonage.  The Defendants, including corporations based in California, were participants in a joint venture that in violation of U.S. law knowingly profited from the import and sale of shrimp and seafood produced with trafficked labor.  The United States government, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and media outlets have highlighted the problems of trafficking and forced labor at Thai shrimp and seafood factories…The Plaintiffs bring claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act…

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