News / Asia

Trafficked Thai Workers' Dreams Become Nightmares

Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers        Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
x
Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
Nopphon Fuchumpa was brought to the United States from Thailand with the promise of work by human traffickers
Sarah Williams
In 2004, Nopphon Fuchumpa was promised a great opportunity in the United States.

The Thai laborer was told if he raised sufficient funds, he could travel to the U.S. and find work there. “They told me there are a lot of opportunities for work, especially work in farming,” he said.

What followed was a nightmarish saga that Fuchumpa said led to his being trafficked.  He had to take out a loan for approximately $10,000 and hand over a deed for what he called his “ancestral land.”  Then, he was told he had to supply an additional $10,000.

“First, I didn’t want to come (to the United Sates) because it’s such a large amount of money,” he said.  “I paid half of it and I made the commitment to pay the other half.    I kept thinking there would be a lot of opportunities to work in America, and I asked a recruiter, ‘Are you sure they’re real jobs there?’ And he said ‘Yeah, there are a lot of real jobs there. You’re halfway there, keep going.’”

Fuchumpa is one of more than 200 Thai workers involved in a legal case against Global Horizons Manpower Company, a labor contractor based in Los Angeles, California.   

In September of 2010, agents working for the company were accused of luring farm workers to Hawaii from Thailand and mistreating them in what the FBI said is the largest human trafficking case ever charged in U.S. history.

The U.S. Justice Department dismissed charges of conspiracy to commit human trafficking against the company in the summer of 2012, saying the accusations could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  A civil case is still pending.  Global Horizons has denied the charges, and did not respond to VOA’s request for an interview.

The financial impact on Fuchumpa has been lasting.  In Thailand, Fuchumpa said he asked family members for help.  He said his mother and sister-in-law helped by taking out additional loans.

When Fuchumpa arrived at the airport in Bangkok for his flight to the United States, he was warned that if he told anyone that he had paid the equivalent of $20,000 to make the trip, he would be sent back home.

In Los Angeles, the Thai Community Development Center has long been involved in trying to help people like Fuchumpa.   The organization participated in the groundbreaking El Monte Trafficking case in 1995, when 72 thai women were  found working in a sweatshop in Los Angeles County.
      
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los AngelesChanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
x
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
Chanchanit Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
Chanchanit Martorell, the executive director of the Center, said she sees mainly labor trafficking involving men, defying the common perception that trafficking usually affects women and girls.

“It has become a huge industry where everyone stands to profit from the recruitment and trafficking of Thai individuals, women, children and men, even your Thai grandmother in a village could get paid to find someone, and turn that person over to a trafficker,” she said.

When Fuchumpa arrived in the U.S., he was sent to pick apples on a farm in the northwestern state of Washington.  When that ended, he was sent to Hawaii to work 10-hour days in brutal heat on a pineapple farm.

“The conditions were very harsh, especially the weather,” he said. “We had to pick up the pineapples directly under the sun, and we were told if we couldn’t do the job fast enough we would be sent back to Thailand.”

Another Thai worker, Amphon Kanthawang, said he was trafficked, and arrived in the U.S. in 2004.  Like Fuchumpa, he had to pay about $20,000 to come to the U.S., where he initially worked on a North Carolina potato farm.  When that assignment ended, he was sent also to Hawaii to pick pineapples.

“It was kind of like a military camp,” he said. “There was no direct pipeline that brought water to us...we had storage tanks…they had to ration the water, only so much to bathe yourself, and most importantly to drink and eat.”

For his part, Fuchumpa said the workers sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, and that some fainted in the fields.

“The workers had to wake up at four in the morning to get in line, there would be two long lines to get food early in the morning,” he said.  “People who were at the end of the line, sometimes they didn’t even get food, you’d get a little box of maybe rice or something, it was barely enough to eat.”

The workers said they were also subjected to verbal abuse, and their employers would criticize them for not doing enough work, warning them they would be sent back to Thailand. 

According to Martorell, such behavior is routine in trafficking cases.  “The passports are confiscated, you’re left to live in a flophouse with no utilities, no running water, no furnishings, and then you’re guarded 24/7, not allowed to leave the premises, and you have no contact with the outside world, so your freedom has been completely stripped,” she said.

Most trafficking cases are discovered only because victims decide to take matters into their own hands and escape. Fuchumpa and his fellow workers met secretly on the pineapple farm, and vowed to meet one day in Los Angeles. “We said, ‘We have to go out and risk and die with the sword, or else we’ll have nothing left,’” he said.

Fuchumpa was sent from Hawaii to Fresno, California, where he was told he would be sent back to Thailand.  He was able to phone a friend in Los Angeles, and the friend sent a taxi to collect him at an apartment complex in Fresno.  Fuchumpa threw his belongings over a wall, climbed over the wall, and fled into the waiting taxi.  He settled in Los Angeles, where he now works in construction, and hopes one day to return to Thailand on his own terms.
 
Kanthawang also fled his traffickers. He now lives in Los Angeles, and has worked in construction and in restaurants.

“Workers summon the courage and risk their lives, and their family’s lives, to escape because they couldn’t stand it anymore  -- to be denied their freedom, and to be denied contact with the outside world and to be treated in the most inhumane way,” said Martorell.

Martorell said trafficking exists in the open, yet its victims are hard to recognize. “It could be someone who is waiting on you at a Thai restaurant.  They may appear to be completely free, but in fact, they’re not getting paid, “ she said.  “In fact they’re being housed and not allowed to leave their housing.”

“They’re completely psychologically threatened, so even though they may be out in the open, serving food, they’re not going to escape because they’ve been so programmed,” Martorell added.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid