Feds settle worker abuse lawsuit against Del Monte

HONOLULU (AP) - Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. will pay $1.2 million to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit claiming Thai workers on Hawaii farms were subjected to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, low wages and deportation threats, a federal agency said Monday.

The settlement disclosed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involved a 2011 lawsuit against six farms and California-based labor contractor Global Horizons, said Regional Attorney Anna Park of the Los Angeles district office of the EEOC.

Del Monte acknowledged no wrongdoing under the settlement, according to a decree filed Monday in federal court in Hawaii. Del Monte did not immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Del Monte no longer operates in Hawaii, where it ran a pineapple plantation until 2006.

Under the settlement, it agreed to stricter compliance requirements for two years for all its farms and subsidiaries nationwide. The $1.2 million will be split among workers covered under the lawsuit.

Park said the commission is trying to hold farms accountable for how workers are treated by contractors.

"This is sort of a chronic issue that we've seen where they try to hide behind labor contractors . even though things happen on their land," Park said.

Theim Chaiyajit, one of the workers, said Monday at a news conference in Los Angeles that he had mortgaged his house, sold his truck and took out loans to pay a recruitment fee to Global Horizons for work at Del Monte in Hawaii.

However, Global Horizons took his passport and didn't pay him, even though he worked six-day weeks, Chaiyajit said.

Park said settlements are being finalized with four other farms in the case that involves more than 600 farm workers. Court records show settlements were reached with Mac Farms of Hawaii, Kelena Farms, Captain Cook Coffee Co., and Kauai Coffee Co.

A February trial has been set for Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Co., a closed operation owned by Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc.

Mordechai Orian, president and CSO of now-defunct Global Horizons, said last week that the company won't agree to a monetary settlement but would consent to employer training conditions if it ever gets back in business.

A federal judge last year dismissed human trafficking charges against Orian and other associates. Authorities had accused the company of manipulating the workers it placed at farms across the United States. It was the U.S. government's largest-ever human trafficking case.

The case was in jeopardy after federal prosecutors abruptly dropped similar accusations against owners of Hawaii's Aloun Farms. That case prompted an investigation that found the federal government wouldn't be able to prove the charges in the Global Horizons case, according to the dismissal order.

___

Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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