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 traffickersNopphon 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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago 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.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More