WASHINGTON — A US federal court on Wednesday ruled that a complaint filed by several Cambodians against two American seafood companies was under its jurisdiction, denying the defendants’ claim that it was a labor dispute.
The law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed a complaint on behalf of seven victims, who claim that over the course of two years they were kept in servitude in seafood factories operated by firms that supply to the American companies, under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).
“Defendants’ Motion is denied with respect to plaintiff’s TVPRA claims and granted without leave to amend with respect to plaintiff’s ATS claim,” Judge John F. Walter said in an order last week.
The two US companies named in the complaint are Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co. Universe, while Thai firms Phatthana Seafood and SS Frozen Food were also accused of abuses. Walmart was also named as a buyer of the seafood produced in the factories.
The defendants argued that the plaintiffs had failed to present a case for extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The lawyer for the Cambodians said the decision was “good news” because it had defined the case as a human trafficking issue, not a “simple labor dispute” as argued by the defendants.
“We’re very happy, and looking forward to proving the case at trial,” Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told VOA Khmer in an email. “The decision is terrific.”
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Labor Rights Center, called it a “positive step”.
“We can call it a crucial victory in the first step for the US court to rule that it has jurisdiction over the case,” he said. “Therefore, for the victims the light of justice is within reach even though there is no decision on the compensation. They have been waiting for justice since 2012.”