Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Insufficient evidence in US trafficking case

Insufficient evidence in US trafficking case

Migrant workers repair a net on a Thai fishing boat in Thailand’s Rayong province. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP
Migrant workers repair a net on a Thai fishing boat in Thailand’s Rayong province. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Insufficient evidence in US trafficking case

A United States district court has dismissed a case against two Thai and two American companies filed by seven Cambodians allegedly trafficked and forced to work on fishing boats.

Central District Court of California Judge John F Walter ruled on Thursday to toss out the case, with his earlier arguments contending that there was not enough evidence of a connection between companies in the US and the alleged trafficking.

The complaint was filed in June 2016 and alleges the seven Cambodians – two women and five men – were lured to Thailand under false promises and held in extreme working conditions for Thai Phatthana Seafood company in 2011 and 2012. The firm exports to the US.

The complaint details the workers’ arduous migration to Thailand, in which they were allegedly “packed like sardines in a pick-up truck” and continually threatened with violence. After arriving, the complaint alleged, conditions remained dire, with workers facing food shortages.

“[S]ome workers could not afford to purchase enough food and were constantly hungry. For example, Plaintiffs Ban and Nakry looked for food growing in nearby fields and found snails and fish washed up on the shore in order to eat,” it continues.

When workers tried to leave, they were allegedly told they couldn’t get their confiscated passports back until they had paid off exorbitant recruitment fees, out of reach given their salaries were well below what they were allegedly promised.

The complaint contended that US companies Rubicon Resources, and Wales & Co Universe – along with Thai companies Phatthana Seafood and SS Frozen Food – were responsible for peonage, forced labour, involuntary servitude and human trafficking, as they were “participants in a joint venture that in violation of US law knowingly profited from the import and sale of shrimp and seafood produced with trafficked labor”.

In the December 21 minutes preceding the judgment, Judge Walter argued there wasn’t sufficient proof to establish a connection between the US firms and trafficking to warrant the court’s jurisdiction over the case.

The complaint also implicates Cambodian recruitment agency CDM Trading Manpower in arranging the migration and extorting workers. Lim Vouchna, an officer of the company, said CDM Trading Manpower no longer worked with Phatthana.

Dy The Hoya, of labour rights organisation Central, said judicial processes were “very complicated” for victims of human trafficking and that companies often won court cases due to inequality of resources. “It’s not fair for the workers,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10