Shutting Down Slavery In Hawaii

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 27, 2011
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Management experts will long remember last week.

About a 150 years ago in Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed President Abraham Lincoln, saying, “Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure.” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Government in 1863 made indirect reference to the proclamation and the ending of slavery as a war goal with the phrase, “new birth of freedom.” In the years after Lincoln’s death, his action in the proclamation was lauded. In was a turning point in America’s history.

So it was with some interest that the idea of slavery, indentured servitude and discrimination based on national origin and race would surface in Hawaii. That’s what happened when a federal agency sued a California labor contractor and six Hawaii farms, alleging discrimination against more than 200 Thai workers in what the EEOC calls its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused a company of luring workers with promises of steady jobs on agricultural visas, but later confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained.

The suit says that, at some farms, the Thai workers were forced to live in dilapidated housing infested with rats and insects, with dozens sleeping in the same room, many with no beds. Additionally, they were forbidden to leave the premises. Bound by their debts, stripped of their identification and silenced by the perpetrators, the Thai workers had little recourse until they were able to contact the EEOC office in Los Angeles, which investigated the allegations and filed charges of discrimination.

The EEOC’s top gun and regional attorney Anna Y. Park is handling the case, and is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further abuse.

There is little question that the results of his case will serve as a wake-up call for other management types who rule their roost by the seat of their pants and gut reactions. There are laws and rules about how you can treat workers and they have to be followed.

The entire handling of workers is presented in a legal framework because, in some cases, even though management know the rules governing employee discrimination and servitude, they choose to disregard them. Said another way, many corporate leaders don’t believe that management is a science and prefer to use their intuition.

One of Stanford’s leading authorities on organization behavior, Jeffrey Pfeffer, said, “I would certainly like to have our corporate leaders make decisions based on facts as opposed to ideology.”

He has also said, “If doctors practiced medicine like managers practice management, most of them would be in jail.”

And while the Gettysburg Address delivered in 1863 by President Lincoln had an immediate impact around the world, it seems that not everyone in Hawaii got the message.

Simply put, you can’t treat workers like slaves anymore.

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