Five years ago, the California-based company Global Horizons Manpower was luring Thai laborers to the U.S. with promises of several months worth of high paying work. But when they got to places like Yakima, they found themselves getting less money, living in poor conditions, then being abandoned without work in hotels between harvests. The plight of the workers was detailed in a June 2007 SW cover story.
Now the feds have taken notice. Last week a grand jury indicted Global Horizons executives in what the New York Times says is the largest human trafficking case ever taken on by the government.
In 2007 200 of those workers sued the company. They told SW writers Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill about recruiters promising lucrative contracts that could transform their lives in Thailand. The only catch was that the recruits had to pay thousands to get in on the money just waiting for them in the U.S.
Most went into debt to get here. They assumed they would quickly be able to pay off the money they owed to recruiters and still end up with far more income than it was possible to earn in their home country.
But on arriving Global Horizons would confiscate workers' passports and legal documentation, then send them to work in fields for low pay and put them up in shoddy living conditions. The company would then threaten to deport the workers if they complained. Thanks to language and cultural barriers, most of the immigrants--in the U.S. with temporary guest worker status--didn't know what, if any, legal recourse they might have.
The federal indictment specifically named Global Horizons president Mordechai Yosef Orian, who told the Weekly he was unaware of the fees being charged by recruiters, and director of international relations Pranee Tubchumpol. Orian surrendered to authorities in Hawaii and pleaded "not guilty," according to the Times.