The United States’ first help center for Thai migrant workers has opened in Los Angeles.
About the help center: On Wednesday, the Thai Community Development Center (CDC) opened a first-of-its-kind help center in Second Home Hollywood for the 28th anniversary of freedom for Thai workers granted through the El Monte Thai garment slavery case in 1995.
The new facility, which is located a few blocks away from the Thai Town business district in Hollywood, aims to protect Thai immigrant workers from mass exploitation. Funded by the California Community Foundation and the Liberty Hill Foundation, the center plans to collaborate with the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and the Pilipino Workers Center.
History of exploitation: In 1995, 72 Thai immigrants who worked in a makeshift garment factory for more than 16 hours a day in El Monte, California, were freed by federal agents who raided the sweatshop compound. The case became recognized as the first instance of modern-day slavery in the U.S. since the abolishment of slavery, which later began the anti-trafficking movement in the nation.
“For almost three decades, Thai CDC has been addressing workers’ rights and worst of all, the heinous crime of labor trafficking, while also engaging in our core mission of community development and a provision of social, human and legal services,” the Thai CDC’s website states.
Exploitation continues: However, a majority of Thai immigrants reportedly continue to work in the service sector and are still vulnerable to exploitation. According to Chancee Martorell, executive director of the Thai CDC, the organization has worked on more than 1,000 cases of trafficked Thai workers.
“Despite being a small immigrant community in this country, Thais are disproportionately affected by the scourge of human trafficking,” Martorell said at the help center’s grand opening, according to the LAist. “The center will transcend ethnic lines and organize workers across ethnic lines and service industries.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor recovered $1.65 million in back wages and liquidated damages from the owner of seven Los Angeles restaurants who attempted to hide wage theft.
“A Thai worker center like this is the change we’ve longed for, for a long time,” said 65-year-old Nantha Jaknang, who was one of the El Monte garment workers. “We will rise above adversity weaving a future where workers’ dignity is honored.”