Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Files allege corporate misdeeds

Files allege corporate misdeeds

Migrant workers shell shrimps at a seafood factory in Mahachai, on the outskirts of Bangkok in 2010. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP
Migrant workers shell shrimps at a seafood factory in Mahachai, on the outskirts of Bangkok in 2010. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Files allege corporate misdeeds

California federal court documents – obtained by the Post yesterday – detail serious allegations against one of America’s top-three seafood importers in the orchestration of and complicity in human trafficking, as well as human and labour rights violations perpetrated against Cambodian citizens.

The documents were filed by lawyers representing Cambodian plaintiffs Keo Ratha, Sem Kosal, Sophea Bun, Yem Ban, Nol Nakry, Phan Sophea and Sok Sang. The seven had brought a civil suit against several companies belonging to the Thai-US conglomerate Rubicon Group, which the Canadian Agriculture Department lists as one of the three largest importers of seafood into the US and is widely reported to supply retail giant Walmart.

The companies lodged a motion to dismiss the case in August, but presiding Judge John Walter ruled last week that the case warranted a trial. Agnieszka Fryszman, an attorney for the seven Cambodians, said in an email yesterday that she and her clients were very happy with the judge’s decision.

“Hopefully this example and the strong precedent will inspire other survivors to enforce their rights,” said Fryszman.

The plaintiffs’ original complaint, filed June 15 this year, contains a litany of abuse allegations.

One section details how in 2011, Yem Ban and his wife, Nol Nakry, were smuggled to Thailand by recruitment agents along with two dozen others in a process that lasted more than a week and saw them packed into the back of a truck so tightly that they were forced to sleep lying on top of one another.

“Some of the workers asked to return home, but they weren’t allowed to leave. Instead, they were beaten,” it reads.

Further sections detail how, having arrived in Thailand, plaintiffs were stripped of their passports, forced to work under arduous and often unsafe conditions for less than the Thai minimum wage while paying for their own working equipment.

“At the factory, Mr Ratha was assigned to work with chlorine without being provided adequate protective equipment,” it reads. “Mr Ratha told his supervisor that he was finding it hard to breathe, but his supervisor ignored him. He asked to quit several times, but was told he could not leave.”

In a 2012 letter to Human Rights Watch, defendant Patthana Seafood Co denied violating employees’ labour rights, withholding their passports or holding them against their will. They also claimed to have no financial relationship with recruitment agents who smuggled employees to Thailand.

Phil Robertson – deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, which has been documenting abuse allegations against the defendants for half a decade – described Judge Walter’s decision as a step in the right direction.

“It’s about time that some American firms started to pay the price for their sourcing practices that emphasise low cost over paying minimum wages and respecting workers’ rights,” Robertson said.

The trial is scheduled to begin November 28, 2017.

MOST VIEWED

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • Khmer cinema classics back on big screen for free at WB Arena’s outdoor movies series

    On a recent Saturday evening at WB Arena, Bunsong was enjoying a tasty BBQ meal with his family after work on the long tables that had been arranged out in front of the restaurant as they watched a Khmer action movie on a big outdoor

  • PM heads to Washington for ASEAN-US special summit

    Regional and international issues and how to bring the ASEAN-US partnership to another level will be discussed at length as Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ministers arrive in Washington, DC, for a special summit on May 12-13. During the trip, Hun Sen and ASEAN

  • National Assembly refutes EU resolution

    The National Assembly (NA) has hit back at a European Parliament resolution condemning the political and human rights situation in Cambodia, calling it another display of the Parliament’s “double standards”. Key points of the resolution include a warning that the Parliament could exclude the