A United States federal court has ruled that it has jurisdiction over a case in which seven Cambodians say they were forced to work in slave-like conditions for Thai seafood companies which supply products to America.
The court in California ordered the case to proceed based on its legal authority to protect victims of human trafficking.
Judge John Walter rejected the companies’ claim that it was a labor dispute.
US law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll represent seven Cambodians, including two women, who have filed complaints against the American company Rubicon Resources and its associate, Wales & Company Universe.
Also the subject of the complaints are Thailand’s Phatthana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food.
The complaint says the complainants were recruited in Cambodia to work for Phatthana Seafood in 2010 and 2012.
In Thailand, they say they were forced to endure conditions of “forced labor, involuntary servitude, and peonage.”
The American lawyer who represents the Cambodians said the companies acted contrary to US law under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Alien Tort Statute.
Lawyers for the companies tried to have the case thrown out this month, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over cases outside the US.
But the Cambodians’ lawyers said the US Congress had added clauses to trafficking laws to cover situations like the one in which the Cambodians found themselves.
Keo Ratha, one of the complainants, said he was happy that the court would go ahead with their complaint because he wanted to stop human trafficking and for the companies to respect the law.
He said the complaint would not have been effective if it had been filed in Cambodia.
Their own country had laws, but these existed only on paper because of corruption and nepotism, he said.
Moeun Tola, the executive director of the Labor Rights Center, said the US ruling was a positive step.
“It’s the first step toward justice for victims who have waited since 2012,” he said, though there was no official information on the compensation they demanded from the companies.
The complaint says the defendants were part of a joint venture that knowingly profited from trafficked labor in direct violation of US and international law.
“When they finally returned home, these men and women had nothing to show for their hard labor and their families were poorer than before,” said Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll, which is representing the victims pro-bono.
“Fortunately, in the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, Congress gave trafficked workers the tools they need to obtain justice when companies knowingly profit from forced labor in their supply chains.
“We are pleased that these claims can go forward in a US court and we look forward to proving our case at trial.”
This post is also available in: Khmer