NYT Op-Ed: How One Community Supported Slave Masters

Alec and Michael Sou, Laotian immigrant brothers whose popular Oahu farm used enslaved labor, trafficked from Thailand.

There was a great piece in the New York Times Op Ed section yesterday that illustrates how modern day slavery can become an entrenched part of a community.

The piece decries the apathy of the Hawaiian public, over a recent, massive, human trafficking bust that enslaved 400 Thai nationals on farms in the state of Hawaii, and on the mainland. It is the biggest human trafficking case in U.S. history. The workers were trafficked through a Beverly Hills recruitment agency, Global Horizons Manpower. The agency’s CEO, Mordechai Orian is currently in custody, along with five of his colleagues.

Read how an investigative article in Mother Jones preceded the biggest slavery bust in American history.

It turns out that slavery on Hawaii farms is nothing new. Just last August, two Laotian immigrant brothers were charged with enslaving 44 Thai laborers on their Oahu farm. Michael and Alec Sou’s slavery scheme is a familiar one: Recruitment agencies—just like Global Horizons—charged up to $20,000 to place Thai laborers into jobs in the U.S. Many laborers mortgaged ancestral homes and borrowed heavily to pay the fees. Once they arrived on the farm, their passports were taken away, they were saddled with even more debt and forced to work under threat of deportation.

You would think that the community would be outraged by the abuse and corruption demonstration by the Sou brothers. But the exact opposite happened. The brothers were so beloved by the community, this NYT article says, that local “business leaders, community activists, politicians—even two former governors… and two top executives at First Hawaiian Bank [wrote an] outpouring of letters begging the judge for leniency at sentencing.”

The Sou brothers had become an important part of the social and economic fabric of the community. Aloun Farms’ pumpkin patch was a popular tourist spot around Halloween. The brothers were deeply involved in local fundraising and charities. People loved their organic, sustainable produce. The article continues:

The men were paragons of diversified agriculture and wise land use, the letter writers said. They had special vegetable knowledge that nobody else had, and were holding the line against genetically modified crops. If they went to prison, evil developers would pave their farmland. Think of the “trickle down impact,” one woman implored the judge. Besides, their produce was delicious.

The friends pleaded for probation, fines, anything but prison. The workers, now scattered to uncertain fates and still in debt, have seen no such empathy.

All too often, slaves are seen as disposable people. And, as in this instance, slave masters—by ingratiating themselves to the community—can seem to be important, indispensable members of society. No amount of capital that Aloun Farms injects into the local economy can wash away the human rights abuses that have allegedly occurred. Help eradicate modern day slavery. Donate to Free the Slaves today!

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