Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The human tragedy of farm worker trafficking in Hawaii remains unresolved
by Larry Geller
Hawaii Reporter continues to be the only news source that follows the ongoing plight of Hawaii’s trafficked farm workers. A story earlier this month, Trafficked Thai Workers' Dreams Become Nightmares (Hawaii Reporter, 2/18/2013) continues the sad saga.
Unfortunately for the workers (and fortunately for the farm owners) the federal government has so far been ineffective in prosecuting abusers. Case after case has collapsed. The federal case against Aloun Farms was abruptly cut off due to prosecutorial error, followed by the collapse of what was billed as “the largest US human trafficking case in US history” brought against Global Horizons, even though some defendants had already pled guilty. EEOC cases were the next dominoes to fall.
No aloha in Hawaii
Snipped from the article:
When [Nopphon] Fuchumpa arrived in the U.S., he was sent to pick apples on a farm in the northwestern state of Washington. When that ended, he was sent to Hawaii to work 10-hour days in brutal heat on a pineapple farm.
“The conditions were very harsh, especially the weather,” he said. “We had to pick up the pineapples directly under the sun, and we were told if we couldn’t do the job fast enough we would be sent back to Thailand.”
“The workers had to wake up at four in the morning to get in line, there would be two long lines to get food early in the morning,” he said. “People who were at the end of the line, sometimes they didn’t even get food, you’d get a little box of maybe rice or something, it was barely enough to eat.”
Trafficking is related to abuse of farm chemicals
The exploitation of Thai (and Laotian) workers is bad enough, but add to that the likelihood that farm chemicals are not being properly applied to crops they raise. Unable to read directions written in English, and supervised by uncaring bosses, not only is the trafficked worker’s health endangered as they spray or apply pesticides and other chemicals without proper protection, but the safety of the food we eat cannot be assured.
Hawaii Reporter has documented the chemical abuses and resulting illnesses in earlier stories, but so far what has the state done about the problem? Nothing.
If it is hard to raise sympathy for the plight of the trafficked workers, try staring into your salad plate tonight at dinner. Not only might the greens have been picked by slave labor, but you have no idea what chemical feast awaits your fork if you have done your best to “buy local.”
We should buy local, but our state should also properly inspect the farms where our food is grown, both to enforce the anti-trafficking laws now on the books, and to check on the safety and appropriateness of the many chemicals used.
Finally, ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Where are other media on this issue? When the federal trials collapsed, they were right there—and then they let it drop. No news is not good news when human trafficking is the issue.