Del Monte is one of the world's largest suppliers of fresh produce. (Sam Hodgson / Bloomberg )
Del Monte Fresh Produce, one of the world's leading producers of fresh fruit and vegetables, has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit related to the mistreatment of Thai immigrants working on pineapple farms in Hawaii.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Del Monte and several farm labor contractors in 2011, accusing the companies of discriminating against workers recruited from Thailand from 2003 to 2006.
The EEOC said the money will be distributed to the Thai immigrants who were mistreated. In addition, Del Monte has agreed to promote the fair treatment of farmworkers throughout the United States. The company said it would instruct its labor contractors to follow U.S. employment laws and to inform all foreign workers of their legal rights.
"I am pleased the parties were able to resolve this case without resorting to prolonged and expensive litigation," said EEOC attorney David Lopez. "We are hopeful that this resolution will provide a model for the agricultural industry to ensure that farm contractors comply with anti-discrimination laws."
Del Monte did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment for this story.
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In its lawsuit, the EEOC accused Del Monte contractor Global Horizons Manpower Inc. of exploiting "economically vulnerable Asian men from Thailand" by requiring them to pay exorbitant fees in order to receive farming jobs in the United States and then mistreating them after they arrived.
The workers were given insufficient pay and placed in "uninhabitable housing" without adequate access to food and kitchen facilities, the lawsuit alleged. Workers who complained were threatened with arrest or deportation and, in some instances, physical violence. The company also seized some workers' identification documents, making it difficult for them to leave, the EEOC said.
The lawsuit said Del Monte "knew of or should have known" about the workers' mistreatment, the EEOC said.
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Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles office, which oversees Hawaii, said she hopes the case is a "wake-up call for others in the agricultural industry."
"We commend Del Monte Fresh Produce for taking a bold step to holding farm labor contractors accountable and to show its commitment to ensuring farmworkers are treated with dignity and protected under federal anti-discrimination laws," she said.
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
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