4 companies used Walmart shipping to traffick Cambodians, judge rules human trafficking case can move forward
A California federal court ruled that a lawsuit against two US and two Thai investigating human trafficking can move forward towards trial. Four companies stand accused of violating the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act and knowingly profiting from the villagers’ working conditions as humans were being snuck into America on shrimp supply runs with Walmart merchandise.
The US-based importers Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co. Universe, and Thai seafood companies Phatthana Seafood Co. Ltd. and S.S. Frozen Food Co. Ltd. – filed a motion in mid-August to dismiss the case arguing that because the alleged conduct took place outside the US, the matter shouldn’t be heard in a US court.
Judge John Walter said that the court has sufficient jurisdiction to proceed, ruling against the defendants’ motion to dismiss.
In a press release following the ruling, Agnieszka Fryszman, an attorney who is representing the plaintiffs pro bono, wrote in a statement to Undercurrent News that her clients “had nothing to show for their hard labor and their families were poorer than before” when they returned home after their employment.
“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 U.S. court and we look forward to proving our case at trial,” she said.
Attorney Charles Kreindler, whose firm represents all four defendants, told Undercurrent that he was pleased with an aspect of the judge’s ruling that dismiss the plaintiff’s claims based on another law, the Alien Tort Statute.
“While the court at this early stage of the proceeding allowed plaintiffs to move forward with certain other claims, that ruling was based on the court accepting each and every allegation made by the plaintiffs as true,” he said. “We are confident that we will show the court at a later date that the remaining claims are legally and factually unfounded and believe that the case will not go to trial. Of course, we will continue to vigorously defend against these false allegations.”
According to the lawsuit, the Cambodian plaintiffs were allegedly recruited from their villages and employed by the defendants outside the US, chiefly in Thailand.
The suit states that the Cambodian villagers paid high recruitment fees but at the Thai factory were “paid less than promised and that their already meager wages would be further reduced by unexpected salary deductions for housing, fees, and other charges.”
The defendants asserted that “the conduct complained of occurred outside the US and the complaint does not allege a basis for extraterritorial jurisdiction.”
Lawyers representing the Cambodian villagers argue that the defendants’ basis for dismissal is incorrect.