Federal judge dismisses human trafficking lawsuit against US, Thai companies

Published on
January 5, 2018

A U.S. federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against two American and two Thai seafood companies accused of forcing workers into involuntary servitude and profiting from human trafficking.

In a decision published on Thursday, 4 January, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter dismissed the case against Phatthana Seafood Co., S.S. Frozen Food Co., Rubicon Resources, and Wales & Co. Universe. 

Seven Cambodian workers filed the suit in the California court in June 2016, claiming they were promised a monthly wage of USD 250 (EUR 207.46) to work at seafood-packing factories in Thailand. However, upon arrival, their wages were cut nearly in half, and salary deductions, including rent, left them without enough money for food. In addition, the employers confiscated the workers’ passports and forced them to live in unsanitary conditions.

The workers sued in an American court citing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which allows individuals who suffered from forced labor and other trafficking violations to seek remedies from companies that benefit from such abuses.

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have said that seafood companies in Thailand have committed numerous human trafficking violations. 

However, S.S. Frozen claimed that it did not sell any products in the U.S. that were processed at the facility were the plaintiffs worked. In addition, Rubicon claimed it ordered – but never sold – any shrimp processed at Phattana’s facility, and Wales & Co. claimed it only provided some “pre-shipment packaging inspections” for Phatthana at what it claims was a minimal payment.

Lawyers for the companies claimed if the courts allowed the act was interpreted so broadly, it could set a dangerous precedent. 

“If [p]laintiffs are right, then the litigation floodgates would open, since virtually every U.S. company benefits, to some degree, from commerce with companies in developing countries,” said Bryan D. Daly, an attorney representing the defendants.

In a statement, Rubicon founder and CEO Brian Wynn said he was confident the court would rule in his company’s favor.

“Rubicon Resources is deeply committed to its employees and their welfare, and we remain focused on delivering a supply chain that is socially responsible and environmentally sustainable,” Wynn said. “Complete and full exoneration was the only outcome that was acceptable to us, as we continue Rubicon’s mission to bring safe and sustainable aquaculture to our North American consumers."

Attempts by SeafoodSource to reach lawyers for the workers were unsuccessful.

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