Keo Ratha et al v. Phatthana Seafood Co., Ltd. et al
Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP, represented seven Cambodian workers who were victims of human trafficking. 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. Instead of the good jobs at good wages they were promised, the 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 California-based Rubicon Resources, LLC, and an affiliate, Wales & Co. Universe Ltd., as well as Thai corporations Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food.
In the case of the Cambodian villagers, each paid high recruitment fees to obtain jobs in Thailand. 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. For example, one plaintiff, Phan Sophea, stated he was unable to return home for his mother’s funeral because he could not afford to ransom his passport back.
Some of the workers did not make enough money to afford food, even when working more than eight hours a day six days a week. For example, villager Yem Ban stated that he was reduced to scavenging for fish along the beach and vegetables left in the fields after harvest.
When they were allowed to return home, the villagers had nothing to show for their hard labor or, worse, lost the farmland they had used as collateral to pay the job recruiters, driving their families deeper into poverty. Phan Sophea, who lost his farmland, stated that he and his family now often go hungry. Another, Sem Kosal, said he now is unable to pay school fees for his son and could not afford to buy medicine when his children were ill.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act authorizes victims of human trafficking to pursue remedies 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 labor.