The U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission announced today that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington state against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms, including six in Hawaii.
The agency said Global Horizons brought more than 200 men from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii and Washington, where they were subjected to severe abuse.
The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, the EEOC said.
The agency said the Thai workers were assigned to work at these farms in Hawaii: Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Farms.
The Washington state farms named in the lawsuits are Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards.
The lawsuit follows criminal charges brought against Global Horizons last year. The U.S. government in September indicted Global Horizons owner Mordechai Yosef Orian and others with exploiting about 400 Thai workers in forced-labor conditions from May 2004 to September 2005.
KAILUA-KONA – A beetle smaller than a sesame seed is boring its way into Kona coffee beans and threatening the nation’s only coffee-growing region’s premier crop.
More than 600 farmers in North Kona and South Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, are preparing to coat their fields with a suffocating fungus and are taking other measures to save their livelihoods and protect the world famous Kona coffee brand. While they’re confident they can limit the damage, they acknowledge they face a long fight against a beetle that will almost certainly reduce harvests and force costly chemical treatments and other work.
”It definitely has made growing Kona coffee more challenging,” said Tommy Greenwell, owner of Greenwell Farms. ”Once the beetle bores into the coffee cherry, it digs out a home and lays its eggs. That bean is no longer useable in coffee products. ”
The beetle, a bug known as Hypothenemus hampei that is native to Africa, was formally identified in Hawaii in September, but farmers have reported spotting it for two years. No one knows how it arrived in Hawaii, but growers said they’re not surprised because it’s seen in other coffee-growing regions throughout the world.
”There are 101 theories about how it got here. All we know is it got here from another country and it’s a very, very good hitchhiker
One of Hawaii’s last venerable Big Five companies, Alexander & Baldwin Inc., could be under pressure to break itself up.
A New York hedge fund manager known to agitate for change in his investment targets bought nearly 10 percent of A&B along with a partner, it was announced yesterday. The purchase triggered expectations the 141-year-old kamaaina company will be split into pieces to elevate stock value.
Neither A&B nor the hedge funds would disclose what the intent of the A&B stock purchase — a $168 million deal — might be yesterday.
“We expect to have a constructive dialogue with them as we do with all of our shareholders,” said Suzy Hollinger, A&B’s director of investor relations.
But stock analysts with insights to A&B and people with ties to the 2,300-employee company say the play almost certainly is a breakup of the conglomerate’s three core businesses — ocean cargo transportation, commercial real estate and agriculture.
“Are the parts worth more than the whole? That’s what this comes down to,” said local stock analyst Randy Havre, echoing views of two other analysts who closely follow A&B.
I wrote in Thursday’s paper about the challenges that Colombian coffee growers face from climate shifts on their mountaintop farms, and how Cenicafé, the national coffee institute, is doing research to breed coffee plants to better resist warmer, wetter weather.
Most everything at Cenicafé’s lush mountain campus in western Colombia is coffee-centric. There are chemists who analyze the brew’s chemical content to understand what mix of molecules makes for great flavor. There are gardens filled with coffee plants from all over the world for breeding new heartier variants. There are geneticists studying the coffee genome.
But Cenicafé scientists are also studying a little bright blue bird whose plight has gained widespread attention in the United States: the cerulean warbler.
The cerulean warbler is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of threatened species. Once plentiful in the United States, its population is decreasing faster than that of any other eastern songbird.
A big part of the problem is that much of the cerulean warbler’s breeding ground in states like West Virginia and Tennessee has been destroyed by forest-felling and mountaintop coal mining. Conservation groups are fighting to save the species, and its plight features prominently in Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, “Freedom.”
So what does this have to do with Colombian coffee? It turns out that the cerulean warbler winters in Colombia and other countries in the northern part of South America. And it seems to prefer the forest canopy of its mountain coffee-growing regions.
So scientists are working to better understand the warbler’s winter habitat, and to make sure it is preserved.
TIMBÍO, Colombia — Like most of the small landowners in Colombia’s lush mountainous Cauca region, Luis Garzón, 80, and his family have thrived for decades by supplying shade-grown, rainforest-friendly Arabica coffee for top foreign brands like Nespresso and Green Mountain. A sign in the center of a nearby town proclaims, “The coffee of Cauca is No. 1!”
But in the last few years, coffee yields have plummeted here and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains, phenomena that many scientists link partly to global warming.
Coffee plants require the right mix of temperature, rainfall and spells of dryness for beans to ripen properly and maintain their taste. Coffee pests thrive in the warmer, wetter weather.
Bean production at the Garzóns’ farm is therefore down 70 percent from five years ago, leaving the family little money for clothing for toddlers and “thinking twice” about sending older children to college, said Mr. Garzon’s 44-year-old son, Albeiro, interviewed in a yellow stucco house decorated with coffee posters and madonnas.
The shortage of high-end Arabica coffee beans is also being felt in New York supermarkets and Paris cafes, as customers blink at escalating prices. Purveyors fear that the Arabica coffee supply from Colombia may never rebound — that the world might, in effect, hit “peak coffee.”
Mike Atherton’s employees call him “Coach” for good reason. Since he bought Maui Tropical Plantation in 2006, the affable entrepreneur has been overseeing a comprehensive game plan to re-energize the 26-year-old attraction.
“We’ve painted the buildings, pruned the trees, spruced up the landscaping, basically given the grounds a complete makeover,” Atherton said. “I’m an outdoors, hands-on guy; I get as dirty as my gardeners do, and I love it!”
A native of Stockton, Calif., Atherton comes from a distinguished family. His maternal great-grandfather was Benjamin Holt, founder of the Caterpillar equipment company. His paternal great-grandfather, the Rev. Isaac Warren Atherton, was a missionary in the Hawi-North Kohala area of the Big Island from 1878 to 1880. His paternal grandfather, Warren Atherton, was an attorney, judge and politician who’s best known for authoring the G.I. Bill.
Atherton and two partners have owned and operated Jesus Mountain Coffee Co. in Nicaragua for 30 years. They acquired the Coffees of Hawaii plantation on Molokai in 2002, and Atherton came to Maui three years later, seeking land to start a similar venture there.
“At the time, C. Brewer & Co. was shutting down and selling all its assets, including Maui Tropical Plantation,” Atherton recalled. “The plantation was an agri-tourism attraction that had been open since 1984, so it had a lot of established growth. It also had a big parking lot, a store, a restaurant, dedicated employees and a good reputation. It was perfect; it just needed some tender loving care.”
Armed with enthusiasm and fresh ideas, Atherton and his hui bought the 60-acre plantation and the surrounding 1,940 acres.
Hawaiian Adventures Part 1: Maui
I had previously promised to share my stories and experiences from Hawaii, and now that I’ve been back at home in Texas for nearly 6 weeks, I think I’m ready to do just that. Any sooner would have been too painful for me. You see, my brief time (just under three weeks) spent in Hawaii opened up a new realm of self to me. I got to ooh and ahh over breathtaking scenery and experience deep gratitude and appreciation for this earth and everything God has put in it unlike I ever have before. I got to revel in my surroundings and listen to my inner thoughts. All the while sipping a mai tai of course. It was exactly the vacation that I needed- plenty of solitude and relaxation mixed with gluttony and adventure.
My Hawaiian vacation consisted of two legs: a week spent in Maui and a week (which “accidentally” turned into 11 days- we’ll get to that later) on the Big Island. I’m lucky enough to have a grandmother who lives in Wailuku, Maui, but unlucky enough to have only been to visit her once when I was 16. I decided that I was indeed due for a visit. She graciously showed me around her beautiful island and introduced me to my favorite town in Maui- Paia, which is a charming surfer’s village with this hippie-esque vibe that I found completely groovy. I spent a few days wandering around Kihei, Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach lounging, sunbathing, reading, eating, people watching. I like the down time every now and then where I can just sit and absorb what’s going on around me. However, I like the thrill of adventure just as much. And I feel like my time is better spent sharing the details of that part of my trip as compared to talking about how many times I flipped from my stomach to my back trying to maintain an even tan.
An emergency interim rule creating two quarantine zones to halt the spread of the coffee berry borer on and off the Big Island is expected to take effect in a few days.
The state Board of Agriculture today passed the rule halting the shipment of unroasted coffee berries, coffee plants and related bags off the Big Island, unless properly treated to kill the alien beetle and its larvae.
Contaminated coffee farm areas from Kaloko in South Kona to Manuka State Park in Kau also are barred from taking unroasted coffee berries, coffee plants, and related bags to areas on the Big Island that are still free of the coffee berry borer.
The quarantine rule will go into effect when it is published in newspapers in a few days and can remain in effect for a year, the state said.
Just in case you wanted to know, here’s some Thanksgiving trivia for you to chew on as you enjoy the holiday with family and friends.
• The National Turkey Federation says that 87 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving whether it’s coffee rubbed turkey from Hawaii, barbecued turkey, cajun fried turkey or – say it isn’t so – in a television frozen dinner.