Road to Freedom: A Journey of Resilience and Hope ~ A Month of Reflection and Forging a Vision for the Future

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We want to thank you for your support, contributions, and participation in the Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case, “The Road to Freedom: a Journey of Resilience and Hope”. Without the work that you do and your contributions, our events would not have been possible.

Thai CDC began in 1994 and without doubt, the El Monte Case in 1995 is incredibly important as a founding moment in our organization’s history and legacy. To commemorate means to remember our histories and prevent them from fading into oblivion, becoming mobilized to ends that we do not agree with, or used by others. There is a Thai saying one of the farmworkers in the case of Global Horizons would say as he struggled in his demand for justice- kaat mai poi, which translates to “the bite that does not let go.” Thai CDC refuses to let go of that past so that we can forge a more equitable future for all immigrant workers.

Let us as immigrant workers, community based organizations, worker centers, government agencies, advocates, socially conscious companies, and public representatives work together toward supply chain responsibility and the eradication of wage theft and modern day slavery.

Forging the Road to Freedom,

Chanchanit Martorell, Executive Director
Thai Community Development Center

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Thai CDC and the El Monte Survivors 20 years later!

20th Anniversary Kick-Off Press Conference


Twenty Years after Slavery in LA

El Monte, CA—Representatives from Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) stood with elected officials and community leaders and former slaves in front of El Monte City Hall to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the landmark case that freed seventy-two Thai nationals from captivity in a makeshift garment factory in El Monte. More.

Press Coverage:

Group to mark end of Thai workers’ captivity at El Monte factory in 1995 ~ LA Times

Workers Held in Near-Slavery, Officials Say ~ LA Times’ Coverage 20 years ago

Thai community remembers shocking case of modern slavery in El Monte ~ LA Daily News

El Monte sweatshop slavery case still resonates 20 years later ~ KPCC’s Coverage

20 Years After Historic Thai Slavery Raid – KPFK’s Coverage

20 Years Later, Thai Ex-Sweatshop Workers Reflect on Freedom From Slavery – KCET’s Coverage

Slavery, Wage Theft, and LA’s Global Labor Problem – Good Magazine

Thai Garment Workers Celebrate 20th Anniversary Of El Monte Raid – CBS’ Coverage


Boyd-Nop Benefit Concert

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To celebrate twenty years of freedom, Thai pop band, Boyd-Nop, held a benefit concert for Thai CDC and the El Monte Thai garment workers on Sunday, August 2nd at the OHM Nightclub at Hollywood and Highland on the 20th anniversary of their liberation. A check for $1,000 was presented to Thai CDC on stage with the workers. This donation will benefit Thai CDC’s Slavery Eradication and Rights Initiative (SERI). Everyone had a ball!


Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium



The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) and the Museum of Tolerance hosted the Anti-Trafficking Symposium: “Learning from the Past to Forge the Future” as part of the twentieth anniversary of the landmark El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case. Government officials, academicians, community leaders, and survivors discussed the status of human trafficking and current efforts to combat modern-day slavery. The theme for the 20th anniversary commemoration is “The Road to Freedom: A Journey of Resilience and Hope.”

ABC News on Modern Day Slavery
ABC News covers the first modern day human trafficking case that occurred in El Monte on August 2, 1995. The case spurred the modern anti-human trafficking movement.


Symposium Videos


Consent and Labor Trafficking

Erika Gonzalez, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
Professor Kathleen Kim, Loyola Law School
Professor Sudarat Musikawong, Siena College
Panida Rzonca, Esq., Thai Community Development Center
This panel covers the T-Visa and U-Visa qualification process and the role of “free-will” and consent as a gray area in regards to contracts, wage theft through illegal sub-contracting fees, and the precarious position of immigrant workers. A critique of consent and contracts in law is offered based on relevant recent labor trafficking cases and law enforcement with an overview of the possibilities for the role of the California State Legislature in securing labor rights for immigrant workers.


Guest Worker Program

Professor Sudarat Musikawong, Siena College
Anna Park, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Meredith Stewart, Southern Poverty Law Center

Meredith Stewart provides a background on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s involvement in critique of the guest worker programs, highlighting cases won and discussing the challenges for state by state anti-wage theft bill, as well as providing policy recommendations for what needs to be reformed or radically changed about guest worker program in the next 10 years. Anna Park provides a history of the EEOC involvement in various human trafficking cases and elaborates on the role of the EEOC and Department of Labor in the next 10 years with regards to prosecuting more labor cases.


Immigrant Worker’s Survivor Stories

Chancee Martorell, Thai Community Development Center
Rotchana Sussman, El Monte Survivor,
Marut Kongpia, Global Horizon Survivor,
Flor Molina, Survivor from CAST.

The survivors of human trafficking trafficking provide personal testimonies about their experiences being trafficked and discuss the role of survivors in fighting for equal pay for equal work, respect, and justice as a collective resolve.


Immigrant Labor and Anti-Wage Theft

George White, New American Media
Sophia Cheng, Organizer, Restaurant Opportunities Center – LA
Aquilina Soriano, Executive Director, Pilipino Workers’ Center
Alexandra Suh, Executive Director, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance

The panelists discuss what each organization has done regarding fighting wage theft for immigrant workers and how the state bill was formed. They cover the main demands of the state bill and provide policy recommendation for potential next steps.


Survivor Quilt Display at the Museum of Tolerance



Fabric Performance at the Pasadena Playhouse




The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) and The Pasadena Playhouse presented Henry Ong’s play, Fabric, on August 6th and 7th to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the landmark El Monte slavery case where seventy-two Thai nationals were freed from slavery. The theme for the 20th anniversary commemoration is “The Road to Freedom: A Journey of Resilience and Hope.” More

Supervisor Solis Honors Chancee Martorell, Thai Community Development Center, and the El Monte Workers on the 20th Anniversary of El Monte’s Human Trafficking Case

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On the 20th anniversary of the liberation of 72 Thai nationals who were held captive in an El Monte sweatshop, Supervisor Hilda L. Solis honored El Monte Thai Garment Workers and Chancee Martorell from the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) for helping liberate these workers. More

Video of the Presentation

  1. Click on Board Meeting Broadcast
  2. Select Meeting Month: August (box on top right)
  3. Select Meeting Date: 8/18 AM Session (box in middle, left)
  4. Select Meeting Segment: District 1 Presentation (box in middle, right)


Recognition from Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell


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August 28, 2015, Los Angeles, CA—The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) was presented with a special recognition and commendation by Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’ Farrell of the 13th Council District in Los Angeles City Hall Council Chambers on Friday, August 28th, 2015. Councilman O’ Farrell welcomed Thai CDC and survivors from the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case to Council Chambers for a formal presentation recognizing Thai CDC’s work to combat human trafficking and to conclude the month-long commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the case. More

Link to Video Presentation
Presentation starts at 32:17

Where are they now?

Survivor Highlight

Rotchana Sussman is a survivor of the first modern-day slavery case in United States history since the abolishment of slavery in 1861. Rotchana fell victim to human trafficking as part of a group of six dozen Thai garment workers who were recruited from Thailand, deceived, and coerced into working in slavery like conditions in a makeshift garment factory whose plight is now documented in the famed 1995 El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case. She was recruited in her hometown of Petchaboon, Thailand by a business promoter who told her she would have the opportunity to work at a well-paying job in America. However, upon her arrival in Los Angeles, she was taken into a townhouse complex in El Monte, California and was stripped of her money, passport, and identification card, and was shown to her bedroom with boarded up windows that she had to share with nine other Thai workers.

The apartment complex was dark and dirty, and surrounded by barbed wire and spiked fences that faced inward. Armed guards would patrol the grounds around the clock to prevent anyone from escaping. Rotchana and the other Thai workers were woken up at 6:00 am each morning, and would spend sixteen to twenty hours of their day in a workroom downstairs sewing dresses, shirts, pants, and buttons with no rest and very little to eat. They made everything for many brand name companies, but earned as little as $400 to $500 per month.

Razor Wire Iron Bars Dumpster WireOn August 2nd, 1995, the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) along with state and federal agencies, helped liberate Rotchana and the other 71 Thai nationals from the compound and provided them with emergency relief and resettlement assistance. Thai CDC helped Rotchana and the workers fight for redress and restitution resulting in their release from immigration detention, criminal prosecution of their traffickers, relief from deportation by the United States government, and a $4 million settlement from the manufacturers and retailers that profited from their enslavement. Thru the efforts of Thai CDC, the nation’s first modern day slavery victims received immediate relief and help in pursuing justice spawning an anti-trafficking movement that led to the founding of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking in 1998 and the passage of the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Rotchana has since remarried, purchased a home, brought her children to the United States who are now in college, had another child who is now in high school, and started a health food business. She remains a fervent spokesperson for human and workers’ rights, and has even testified in front of the California State Assembly to pass AB 633 in an effort to eliminate sweatshop conditions in the garment factory.

_DSC7438Recently, she graduated from Thai CDC’s Small Business Program’s Entrepreneurship Training Program and receives ongoing consultation and technical assistance for a vegan Thai restaurant business she hopes to open up at Thai CDC’s Thai Town Marketplace coming this fall.Rotchana is also assisting Thai CDC with the organization’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case. Throughout the month of August, Thai CDC is hosting commemorative events and activities that include a press conference, a radio-version presentation of the play, “Fabric,” at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theater, a benefit concert by the Thai pop band, Boyd-Nop at Hollywood and Highland, an Anti-Trafficking Symposium at the Museum of Tolerance, a teaser screening of the documentary on El Monte, “Ghost Factories,” an introduction to the Wage Theft Prevention Bill in the State of California, and a display of survivor quilts at the Museum of Tolerance.If you are interested in assisting Thai human trafficking victims like Rotchana, and want to learn more about how you can support our campaign to end-modern day slavery known as the Slavery Eradication and Rights Initiative (SERI), please contact Thai CDC or donate today!

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