A story of modern slavery in Utah

Thais tricked, trapped and imported here to be slaves

Published: Saturday, Aug. 14 2010 10:00 p.m. MDT

He ended up staying in Thailand for a full year before he could return. He says lenders pressured him and his family to pay the loans he had taken out to get to America. But Global Horizons talked to the lenders "and told them we were going back to the United States to work. Then they were not so harsh with us" — but he says his interest rates were raised because of the delays.

Even while working in America, workers found ongoing pay delays. So sometimes they would send all the money they had back to Thailand to cover bills, meaning they could not buy food themselves.

In Hawaii on a coffee plantation, Chan says, "We ran out of money. And we had to go and trap some wild animals and birds and to pick wild vegetables and whatever else was available around the plantation to survive."

They say housing usually was overcrowded. It was common for seven or eight people to be in a cheap motel room or trailer that could sleep only four in beds — the rest slept on floors. They had to handwash laundry in sinks. They sometimes had no kitchens and cooked on hot plates or in crock pots.

The company told them not to allow outsiders to visit. They were constantly warned that anyone who violated those rules would be fired and sent home. Tin says that supervisors who stood up for workers "didn't last long and would be fired."

Rong remembers that in Washington state, he and a group of Thais were taken to a dollar store to shop. "Police saw all of us and thought we were terrorists or something." The Thais didn't have ID and didn't understand instructions. "They pulled guns on us. They hauled us to the police station. It was terrifying."

Rong says the company used reports of such incidents to discourage workers from going anywhere and constantly told them that Americans were prejudiced against Asians and it would be dangerous to leave.

In 2005, the Circle Four farm in Milford signed a contract with Global Horizons to provide labor. The farm raises and markets 1.2 million hogs a year and is a subsidiary of Smithfield Food, the largest producer of pork in the nation.

Delta Eggs chicken farms in Juab County also had signed with Global to provide workers for it, and some Global Horizons employees also went there.

Global advertised itself as a work force services firm that, for a fee, recruited legal employees, paid them, housed them, insured them, supervised them and handled immigration and other particulars that none but the biggest farm companies could easily handle on their own.

Workers interviewed say they had no problems with Circle Four or Delta Eggs and say they were treated well by them and liked the work, pay and hours. But they say actions by Global Horizons became unbearable in Utah.

Some Thai workers lived in trailers in Beaver and were driven by bus to the pig farms in Milford. "We had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to get on the bus because there were many sites where workers were dropped off. The bus was so old that it caught on fire once and we had to run out," Chan says.

He added that Thais were not accustomed to cold winter weather and the bus had no heater. "We had to pile blankets on us to keep warm." He says heat in their trailers did not work well either. They also lacked working air conditioning in the summer.

Chan added, "They did not allow us to go outside and get to know anyone. And they did not allow outsiders to come into the premises. It made it hard for us to live in that confinement." They didn't have a lot of time to socialize anyway, working 10 hours a day, six days a week — not counting long commute times.

While no guards kept them in their trailers, workers say that Global Horizons supervisors constantly warned that if they broke the rules, they would be sent home — and their families would be ruined.

In Delta, Bon says, some Thais took a walk to find a pay phone to call their families. He says suspicious police stopped them. Police asked to see their passports, which they did not have. They thought the Thais were illegal workers, and followed them home.

He said a supervisor talked to the police to resolve misunderstandings. But the company then chided the workers for leaving their room.

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