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Sunday, October 10, 2010
Neil Abercrombie's slavery problem
By Andrew Walden @ 6:44 PM :: 12193 Views :: Democratic Party, Labor, Politicians

by Andrew Walden

When Governor Linda Lingle vetoed HB444 gay civil unions, Neil Abercrombie claimed “civil rights cannot be compromised”:

“Now, it will be up to the next Governor and Legislature to ensure that all people of Hawaii receive equal treatment. Protecting people’s civil rights cannot be compromised. I am committed to that most essential of constitutional imperatives.”

But when it comes to the civil rights violation known as slavery, Neil Abercrombie has remained silent as his key supporters organize and lead the defense of Democratic donors Mike and Alec Sou of Aloun Farms--and other of his supporters become entangled in the "largest human trafficking case in US history."

After the Sous offered to admit guilt in a plea bargain, Abercrombie’s foremost political backer, former Governor Ben Cayetano, along with former governor John Waihee, wrote to presiding Judge Susan Oki Mollway, a Clinton appointee, asking for leniency. Cayetano and his wife have each given Abercrombie's campaign the maximum legal donation of $6000.

In sharp contrast to his public pronouncements on the "civil right" to transform marriage, Abercrombie has remained studiously silent on the Cayetano and Waihee letters.  Liberal Midweek columnist Bob Jones July 28 wrote:

That Waihee, Cayetano and (Hawaii Food Bank Director Dick) Grimm would excuse what the Sous pleaded guilty to deeply troubles me, and should not influence Judge Mollway. And I have to wonder if those fellows and community activist Kioni Dudley - who wrote an impassioned newspaper defense of the Sous - bothered to read the plea agreements. I don’t think they did. You can’t read them and say, “Those are just nice farmers who broke a law they didn’t understand.”

Factually, here’s what happened and what Alec and Mike Sou pleaded guilty to with no mitigating circumstance in their agreements with the feds. Nine years ago, they contracted with a Thai agent to bring to Hawaii 44 farm laborers at low wages, with $20,000 upfront fees per man and woman to the agent - that’s $880,000. They housed all 44 at first in a five-bedroom home in Waianae, and later some in shipping containers on the farm. They paid them lower-than-promised wages and said they could be deported if they tried to leave their employment. (They now deny that latter threat.)

Those are facts, or at least the facts the Sous agreed to in their guilty plea. True, the Sous used the Thai agent to recruit and do the deal, but nothing in their signed plea says they did not know the deal.

So I’m puzzled that former governors Waihee and Cayetano, both lawyers, could have read the Sou plea papers in entirety and then written to federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway and said Alec and Mike were nice guys doing nice things for Hawaii and should be let off without prison time.

Perhaps in Abercrombie's mind the 13th Amendment-- "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States." --is not included among the "most essential of constitutional imperatives" – if campaign contributions are at stake.   

If only those poor Thai farmers had wanted to abandon their wives and families and marry each other, maybe then Abercrombie would speak up?

Abercrombie also remains silent as the separate, but related, "Global Horizons" case explodes across the international news wires. What is described as "the nation's largest human trafficking case" includes Thai farmers allegedly held in bondage at Steve Case's Maui Land and Pineapple and Steve Case's Grove Farm.  Steve's cousin, former Democratic Rep Ed Case, is among Neil Abercrombie's most prominent backers.  Steve's father, Dan H Case, is a minority owner of the Star-Advertiser.

Billionaire Pierre Omidyar is a part-owner of Maui Land and Pineapple. When he bought into ML&P in March of 2007--just months after Global Horizons had been banned from labor contracting by the US Department of Labor-- Omidyar told Business Wire:

"Maui Land & Pineapple is a transformative company, emphasizing long-term planning and local self-reliance. I value their sound leadership and business practices, as well as their ethic of stewardship toward local communities."

Three years later when the story started making national news, Omidyar's Civil Beat website whined "Maui Pineapple Co. Dragged Into Human Trafficking Story." But the Thai workers saw the issue of "dragging" differently. Liberal magazine Mother Jones explains:

(Thai worker Nikhom) Intajak was asking a lot of questions and his supervisor began threatening to send him home. On September 12, 2005, Intajak took stock of his predicament. After 14 months of work, his visa had two days remaining. He had no idea whether Global planned to renew it, and he still owed $6,000 on his recruiting fee. Being sent home would mean losing his home and his land, which had belonged to his family for generations. It would mean homelessness for his wife, daughters, grandmother, and aunt. He could see only one way out.

Teaming up with a friend who'd also decided to run, Intajak threw his backpack out a window, then snuck out of the pineapple compound. Within moments, another friend called his cell phone to tell him the guards were coming after him.

Intajak ran into the cane fields for cover, snaking his way in shorts and flip-flops through the twisting, two-inch-thick, 12-foot-high stalks. "I was sweating like crazy, and it was muddy and slippery," he says. "I really had no idea what was going to happen, or if I'd make it, or what would happen if I got caught." Listening for cars, trying to stay close to the road, Intajak headed down the mountain, toward the ocean. After an hour in the cane, he found his friend, and together, they walked into Paia, a surfer town.

The whining excuses from Civil Beat and the silence from the "transformative" ML&P contrast sharply with the reaction of Utah company Circle Four when they discovered Global Horizons had stopped paying Thai workers at their pork processing plant. The August 15, 2010 Deseret News reports on “A Story of Modern Slavery in Utah”:

Circle Four quickly filed a federal lawsuit against Global Horizons and its chief officer, Mordechai Orian. It claimed Circle Four had paid Global Horizons every week as stipulated in contracts but that Global had not in turn paid the Thais. Circle Four contended the Thais were not its employees but were Global Horizons' workers.

The lawsuit also said that Circle Four had found, to its surprise, that the U.S. Department of Labor in 2006 banned Global Horizons for three years from obtaining H-2A visas because of a variety of violations — even though Global had claimed it had all necessary immigration permission for workers.

Circle Four named 59 Thai laborers in the lawsuit as "interpleaders" so they could explain their situation and help resolve the dispute between the companies.

Of course, being a pork processor, Circle Four does not qualify as "enlightened, progressive, or conscious" nor “sustainable, organic, or holistic” -- which may explain how they arrived at the right decision.

Like Civil Beat, activist group Kanu Hawaii was launched with $750,000 of Pierre Omidyar’s billions. Kanu has been cited a major source of key Abercrombie campaign volunteers. As the Star-Advertiser September 19 pointed out:

Abercrombie … recruited a cadre of young, socially conscious Democrats from such organizations as Kanu Hawaii… (to form the core of his campaign team).

Kanu Hawaii operatives were instrumental in the effort to blame the Lingle administration for school furloughs and deflect all responsibility away from the HSTA/BoE/DoE. Their demonstrations and sit ins were central to efforts by the Democrat media to drag down Lingle’s--and by extension, Aiona’s—sky high popularity in preparation for the 2010 elections. Kanu was apparently so alarmed that somebody had made the connection between them and the Abercrombie campaign that Kanu boss James Koshiba penned a response published September 26 in the Star-Advertiser.

In testimony submitted to the House Committee on Agriculture February 18, 2009 Koshiba complained that the Barrel Tax proposal was a measly $1 for every barrel of crude oil and other petroleum products imported into Hawaii.  Joined by Olin Lagon, Kanu Hawaii's "Director of Social Ventures", and Kanu Hawaii board member Makena Coffman, Koshiba demanded that "the barrel tax should be structured to set a 'floor price' on oil of $100 per barrel."  Kanu Hawaii member and green activist Josh Stanbro chimed in on line with a suggested $125 per barrel floor pointing out helpfully: "So right now at $45 barrel, the tax would be $80, but when oil goes up to $100, it will only be $25".

After failing to convince the legislature to raise taxes, Kanu turned its attention to the defense of Aloun farms.

On August 12, 2009 Kanu Hawaii member Scott Goold called on Kanu members to speak up against efforts to develop the Ho’opili area in part because: “(Aloun) farm would be displaced if Ho'opili is built."

On February 3, 2010 another Kanu Hawaii member promoting “eat local” efforts directed at feeding the homeless enthused:

This past month has been incredible! The generosity of everyone that has donated their time to volunteer, and of those making produce donations has touched my heart. Bale Bakery has made donations every week! Nalo Farms, Aloun Farms, and Ma'o Organic Farms have made regular donations at the end of the market.

Aloun Farms is a key vendor at the Kapiolani Community College farmers market, and a wholesale supplier of many KCC retail vendors. Kanu Hawaii is instrumental in promoting KCC as part of Kanu's ongoing Eat Local campaign. Concerned that slavery might damage the reputation of the organic eco-religion, Larry Geller of Disappeared News September 15 points out:

The Aloun Farms tent at the Saturday KCC Farmers Market no longer has an “Aloun Farms” banner. So shoppers are unaware that they are purchasing produce from a company facing charges of human trafficking of farm workers.

Since the sign was taken down shoppers flock to pick up melons and other produce, which are often cheaper than at other tents. Other vendor’s melons most often come from Aloun Farms anyway, they are that large a producer.

Each morning, part way through the market, a large truck backs into the shopping area to unload a fresh supply of melons at the Aloun tent. It too is unmarked. The melons keep selling. Buyers don’t know. The melons are cheap and very good tasting.

That affordable produce may be affordable only because of low labor costs. And the accusation is that the farm has benefited from employing trafficked Thai workers.

It’s not just the activists.  Even Abercrombie's union supporters are tainted. The ILWU backed Hannemann in the primary, but switched to Abercrombie in the general. Maui News September 10 reports:

Willie Kennison, Maui district director of Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represented Maui Pine workers, said under the union labor agreement, temporary workers would have become union members after working more than 100 consecutive days. He said, however, that ILWU members had little contact with the Thais, who worked on a separate crew, and would have had a language barrier if they had met them.

For those who know history, the irony could not be greater.

The ILWU in the 1930s and 40s organized plantation workers in Hawaii. The coming of US law under the 1900 Organic Act had earlier overturned the Hawaiian Kingdom and Hawaii Republic law known as the "Masters and Servants Act". The plantation workers had thus been freed from a form of indentured servitude very similar to that allegedly suffered by Thais working some of the very same fields 100 years later.

The ILWU’s lame excuses contrast sharply with the reaction from the United Farm Workers in California. Maui News continues:

...immigration attorney Melissa Vincenty of Honolulu, who is representing 80 clients with claims against Global Horizon, 56 of them in Hawaii, said the United Farm Workers union had helped expose the Global schemes in the western states….

In typical Hawaii fashion, Judge Mollway has ordered the Waihee and Cayetano letters sealed from public view, but the slavery support letters submitted by lesser minions are still public record.

Anti-development activist Keoni Dudley called on anti-GMO activists and organic local food cultists to send in support letters on the Sou brothers' behalf, generating an impassioned response from some who apparently think their so-called "organic", "Eat Local", and anti-GMO campaigns are mitigating factors in this slavery case.

  • Patricia Yuki Beekman of Honolulu wrote: "If...the Sous are in jail and so unavailable to work the land, a very real second possibility is that GMO (genetically modified organism) companies will come in and take over the land."
  • Danielle Guion-Swenson wrote: "(The Sou brothers') disappearance from Aloun farms would have repercussions beyond our understanding.... Hawaii's irreplaceably rich 'aina, vanishing through development and acquisition by agribusiness, some experimenting with genetic modification, is alarming in itself."
  • Lucille Morelli wrote to Mollway: "Who can afford to replace them?, only (sic) big corporations growing genetically modified seed crops...."

Geller is concerned because anti-GMO activists are exposing their true characterHe warns:

Consciousness is rising nationwide on what to buy and what to shun. What a disaster it would be if Hawaii’s farm exports are tainted with accusations of slave labor. We should work on the problem now, before it has a chance to fester. The Internet allows for no secrets.

The New York Times hammers these misanthropes writing, In an Ugly Human-Trafficking Case, Hawaii Forgets Itself.

But it is not "Hawaii" which has forgotten itself. It is just Neil Abercrombie and his supporters among the "sustainable, organic, and holistic" crowd who apparently think their cause, and the campaign volunteers and donors who are part of it, are too pure to be bothered by a little slavery problem.

---30---

RELATED: 

Federal Campaign Contributions by the Sous:

SOU, ALEC S
KAPOLEI,HI 96709

ALOUN FARMS

2/12/04

$1,500

Inouye, Daniel K (D)

SOU, SOMPHONE
KAPOLEI,HI 96707

ALOUN FARM INC./V.P.

8/29/06

$2,100

Hirono, Mazie K (D)

Local Food movement: Bourdain likens Alice Waters to Cambodian dictator

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