Curaçao Drydock Company lawsuit (re forced labour)
In August 2006 three Cuban nationals accused Curaçao Drydock Company of subjecting them to forced labour in a lawsuit in US federal court under the Alien Tort Claims Act and other laws. They alleged that the company conspired with the Cuban Government to traffic them and other workers to Curaçao to work for Curaçao Drydock Company as part of a forced labour programme. The workers allegedly worked 16-hour days in dangerous conditions. The workers were unpaid; instead their compensation was deducted from Cuba’s debt to the company.
The company filed a motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens (inconvenient forum – information on this legal doctrine available here). The court denied the company’s motion in February 2008 and held that it had jurisdiction under ATCA, stating that the allegations of forced labour and international human trafficking constituted violations of universal and obligatory norms of international law.
On 30 July 2008 the company’s lawyers notified the court they had been discharged by the company. The company subsequently failed to communicate with the court. On 8 August 2008, the court entered a default judgment in favour of the plaintiffs on the issue of liability, holding that the defendant had abandoned the proceedings. The case went to trial only on the issue of damages. On 31 October 2008 the court awarded a total of $80 million in damages to the plaintiffs, saying there was “overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence” of the plaintiffs’ claims. The judgment stated that this amount reflected the severe physical and psychological injuries of the plaintiffs, the defendant’s gross misconduct, the universality of the offense, the gains made by the company from the conduct and the potential deterrent effect it could have on other companies.
In July 2013, the plaintiffs sought to enforce the US judgement against the defendant's assets in Singapore. The court of first instance declared the US court decision enforceable in Singapore, and this was confirmed by the High Court of Singapore in June 2015.
- “US case highlights Cuban 'slaves' in Curaçao”, Colin Woodward, Christian Science Monitor, 18 Nov 2008
- “Cuban trio win suit against Curacao firm”, Frances Robles, Miami Herald, 9 Aug 2008
- “Cuba accused of slavelike labor deal”, Frances Robles, Miami Herald, 28 Oct 2008
US District Court Southern District of Florida Miami Division
- [PDF] Licea, et al. v. Curaçao Drydock Company, 31 Oct 2008 [final judgment on damages]
- [PDF] Licea, et al. v. Curaçao Drydock Company, 8 Aug 2008 [order striking defendant’s answer and entering default judgment]
- [PDF] Licea, et al. v. Curaçao Drydock Company, 22 Feb 2008 [order denying defendant’s motion to dismiss]