Monday, May 25, 2020
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Hawaii basil farm ‘deplorable,’ ‘unsafe,’ judgment says
By Malia Zimmerman @ 3:30 PM :: 4304 Views :: Agriculture, Labor

Hawaii basil farm ‘deplorable,’ ‘unsafe,’ judgment says

 FAT LAW FARM: HI’s largest exporter of basil to the mainland US and Canada.

by Malia Zimmerman,, April 17, 2014

HONOLULU — The federal government, citing “deplorable” and “unsafe” conditions, has fined Hawaii’s top exporter of basil nearly a half-million dollars.

Fat Law Farm, which encompasses 425 acres in Leeward, Oahu, owes hundreds of thousands in back wages to foreign workers, a Department of Labor report says.

The farm must pay $428,800 in back wages and damages to workers and $31,200 in civil penalties because of “deplorable housing, safety and health conditions for workers,” according to a consent judgment approved this week by U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright.

The farm, according to the state Department of Health, exports 80 percent of Hawaii’s basil crops — worth $5 million annually.

The Fat Law judgment also warns farm owners against holding workers’ passports, refusing to let workers leave the farm or ordering workers to pay a fee as a prerequisite to being hired —all elements of human trafficking under federal law, said Kathryn Xian, an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.

Specifically, Fat Law Farms violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions between 2011 and 2013, court documents show.

Juan Coria, acting regional administrator for the federal Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in the Western Region, said investigators found “vulnerable” workers and “egregious violations.”

Filipinos were paid $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, and overtime. Laotians, however, were paid $5 per hour in cash, without overtime, and worked 70 hours per week.

Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator in the Labor Wage and Hour’s Western region, said it’s rare a company owes this much in back wages. Other agencies are looking into whether the company violated tax, insurance and employee-mandate provisions.

 DEPLORABLE: This mat in a crowded storage room isn’t appropriate housing for workers, DOL said.

Alvin Law, spokesman for Fat Law Farm, said the judgment doesn’t tell the farm’s side of the story.

“Most workers would rather be paid less in minimum wage and have a place to stay and eat, rather than be paid the minimum wage and commute to work,” Law said. “This is what we offered and what some of the workers wanted.”

Law maintained “workers were supplied a kitchen, lodging and laundry area. Because the farm provided housing, Fat Law should have had a credit toward wages.

That the farm would consider the living conditions “standard,” Rosalez said, is “shameful.”

Photos provided by investigators show workers lived in plywood shacks piled with trash, slept on floor mats in crowded conditions and in moving vans and cooked in rusted pots on an antiquated portable stove.

Law said the “standards and rules are not apparently obvious to small farmers.”

“The bottom line is the rules are complex, and we are working with the Department of Labor to become in compliance,” Law said.

 UNSAFE: U.S. DOL said living and working conditions are unsafe, even shameful.

The U.S. Department of Labor began its investigation into Fat Law and other Oahu farms after a series of stories highlighted how Laotian workers were trafficked from Laos to Hawaii via a B2 visitor visa scam. The workers, then, were placed on one of several Asian vegetable farms and subjected to horrible working conditions and essentially lived in servitude.

Law said the farm now employs no illegal foreign workers, but he didn’t say whether such workers were employed before.

Law maintained the farm didn’t keep anyone’s passport, prevent workers from leaving or charge a fee to new hires.

Xian said the language in the judgment documents elements of human trafficking.

 DANGER: Pesticides being mixed and sprayed incorrectly by foreign workers

Xian said another concern, in which the U.S. Department of Labor has no jurisdiction, is how workers apply pesticide to produce.

On many Oahu farms, foreign workers hired as pesticide “sprayers” get sick and some have died as a result of repeated, excessive exposure to this pesticide, Xian said, in part because workers cannot read product labels.

“These workers suffer more than just wage violations. They are at risk of significant poisoning by these pesticides, which they are forced to spray on crops that end up on our dinner tables,” Xian said.

In 2012, the state Department of Health ordered the company to destroy its entire basil crop — all 29 acres — because it used an unapproved pesticide. Through spot testing, state investigators found the farm was using the pesticide methomyl at two of its farm properties. Methomyl is toxic to humans.


TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote


808 Silent Majority

808 State Update AM940


ACA Signups Hawaii



Alliance Defending Freedom

Aloha Life Advocates

Aloha Pregnancy Care Center

American Council of Trustees and Alumni

American Mothers of Hawaii



Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Astronomy Hawaii

Audit The Rail

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Better Hawaii 

Blaisdell Memorial Project

Broken Trust 

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

CAFR Hawaii

Castaway Conservative

Children's Alliance Hawaii

Children's Rights Institute

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Citizens for Recall

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

Coffee Break

CSIS Pacific Forum

DAR Hawaii

DVids Hawaii

E Hana Kakou Kelii Akina

E Māua Ola i Moku o Keawe

Farmers For Choice Hawaii


Fix Oahu!

Follow the Money Hawaii

Frank in Hawaii

Front Page Magazine

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Get Off Your Butts!

God, Freedom, America

Grassroot Institute

Hawaii Aganst Assisted Suicide

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Credit Union Watch

Hawaii Crime Victims' Rights

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defending Marriage

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Families for Educational Choice

Hawaii Family Advocates

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federalist Society

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii Firearm Community

Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance

Hawaii Future Project

Hawaii Gathering of Eagles

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Homeschool Association

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii March for Life

Hawaii Meth Project

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Right to Life -- Big Island

Hawaii Right to Life -- Oahu

Hawaii Shield Law Coalition

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Smokers Alliance

Hawaii State Data Lab

Hawaii Together

Heritage Foundation

HI Coalition Against Legalized Gambling



Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Homeless Crisis

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

Horns of Jericho Blog

House Minority Blog

House Republican Caucus YouTube


Hump Day Report

I Vote Hawaii

If Hawaii News

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

Investigative Project on Terrorism

Iowa Meets Maui

Jackson v Abercrombie

Jihad Watch

July 4 in Hawaii

Kahle v New Hope

Kakaako Cares

Kau TEA Party

Kauai Co GOP

Keep Hawaii's Heroes


Land and Power in Hawaii

Legislative Committee Analysis Tool

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Malulani Foundation

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui

Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group

Middle East Forum--The Legal Project

Mililani Conservatives for Change

Military Home Educators' Network Oahu

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

Muslim Brotherhood in America

NAMI Hawaii


National Christian Foundation Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

National Wind Watch

New Zeal

NFIB Hawaii News

No GMO Means No Aloha

Northwest Economic Policy Seminar

Not Dead Yet, Hawaii

Now What I Really Think

NRA-ILA Hawaii

Oahu Alternative Transport

ObamaCare Abortion Hawaii


OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

Pacific Aviation Museum

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

PEACE Hawaii

People vs Machine

Pritchett Cartoons 

Pro-GMO Hawaii


Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

Republican Party -- Hawaii State

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

Robotics Organizing Committee

School Choice in Hawaii

SIFE Remington

SIFE W. Oahu 

Sink the Jones Act

Smart About Marijuana--Hawaii

St Marianne Cope

State Budget Solutions Hawaii

State Policy Network

Statehood for Guam

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Harriet Tubman Agenda

The Long War Journal

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Trustee Akina KWO Columns

Truth About Trade & Technology - Hawaii

UCC Truths

Union Members Know Your Rights

US Tax Foundation Hawaii Info

Valor in the Pacific

VAREP Honolulu

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii