Hawaii is a hotbed of human trafficking, and now we have a lawsuit to prove it. Last week, the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) brought legal action against a Mainland labor recruiter and six Hawaii farms for allegedly abusing imported Thai workers. It’s a story we’ve reported on before, but clearly it’s not going away.
It begins with California-based Global Horizons, which asks foreign workers to pony up a “recruitment fee” in exchange for jobs. The workers then have to repay the money before they can pocket any earnings. The result, often, is a kind of indentured servitude.
The Thai men named in the suit were sent to Hawaii by Global Horizons where, according to EEOC, they were paid substandard wages and “forced into vermin-ridden housing, denied the opportunity to leave the premises and subjected to harassment, including physical assaults, by their overseers.” Further, EEOC alleges, Global Horizons took away the men’s passports and threatened them with deportation if they complained.
The farms named in the suit include: Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, Mac Nut Farms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Company.
It’s worth asking what took EEOC so long. We first wrote about this issue in September of last year, when the feds were pursuing criminal charges against Global Horizons. Then there’s the matter of money—can all of these farms afford to pay large monetary damages or will they simply fold? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, does this case—big as it is—even scratch the surface of the problem?
We’re betting none of those questions have comforting answers.
Screen No Evil
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) didn’t need any more bad press, but it’s getting some anyway. This week, former Big Island TSA screener Dawn Nikole Keka admitted in court to swiping $200 from an undercover agent and now faces up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. According to a Department of Homeland Security affidavit, Keka was targeted because of “numerous allegations” that she was “stealing cash from Japanese travelers passing through her lane” at Kona Airport.
On March 11 (the day after the Japan tsunami) the agent approached Keka’s screening area with $1,300 stuffed inside a Hello Kitty backpack and came out with $200 missing. Keka was asked to empty her pockets, revealing two crumpled $100 bills with serial numbers that matched the bills in the backpack. She immediately lawyered up, according to the affidavit, but did offer one incriminating statement: “I just made a big mistake.”
It’s not the first time a TSA employee has been nailed for theft. Earlier this year screeners at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and JFK in New York confessed to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from passengers—again, mostly unsuspecting international travelers. And these are the people we’re trusting with our nude full-body scans?
Tooting our own horn alert: last week, at the annual AAF Pele Awards on Oahu, MauiTime’s 2010 Best of Maui issue—which, you’ll recall, was printed in eye-popping 3D—received the Special Judge’s Award for outstanding design. Congrats to our whole ‘ohana—from editorial to production to sales to the team of intrepid volunteers who inserted cardboard glasses into 18,000 newspapers—for making it happen.
Now all we have to do is top ourselves.