Slavery Is Alive and Well in Utah

Sep 28, 2010
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

The FBI is in Utah investigating what the Justice Department has called the largest human-trafficking case in U.S. history.

A Los Angeles-based labor-recruiting company, Global Horizons Inc., is accused of recruiting 400 Thai workers to work on U.S. farms from 2004 to 2007 and subjecting them to forced labor and poor working conditions while witholding pay.

Forced labor does not only happen overseas. It is happening right in sunny Utah. (Photo: Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Chang, one of these recruits, worked in Utah and on other farms across the nation.

"I was treated just like a slave," he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Another Thai worker, Toh, said working conditions and treatment were “almost unbearable. They took a lot from us—not our lives, but our livelihoods and money and our dignity.”

The first items taken upon arrival in the States were the recruits' passports and travel documents. Workers were told the paperwork would be put away for "safe keeping."

Things spiraled from bad to worse for the migrant workers.

One Utah worker, Pai Boon, told local Utah news website that his living quarters were cramped and the workers were kept isolated from the community. They were not to go out and meet people, especially other Asians. The employer said Asians caused trouble.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Parkinson claims the Utah situation is not an isolated case: "Utah is a destination place for trafficking. It's a state that traffickers traffick their victims through....It's also a place where people are recruited and then taken elsewhere."

Parkinson is the head of the Utah Human Trafficking Task Force. In the past two years, the task force reported 56 cases of labor slaves. Parkinson believes hundreds more are hidden in Utah homes.

There is hope at the end of the tunnel for the Thai workers in the current investigation. Global Horizons faces serious charges.

Pai Boon and some of his fellow workers have better jobs and "T" visas, which are given to trafficking victims.

Boon said of his current work at a roofing company: "It's like night and day."

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