Pattaya Daily News

05 September 2010 :: 15:09:46 pm 37581

Hawaiian Farmers Ask for Mitigation in Thai Trafficking Case

Two prominent Hawaiian farmers are attempting to have their punishment in a human trafficking case reduced this week, claiming their farms importance to the islands “food security” as a major mitigating circumstance.
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Honolulu, the 5th of September 2010: The two brothers, Alec and Mike Sou (Laotian heritage) are the owner-operators of the second-largest vegetable farm in Hawaii, the Aloun Farms. This week the pair are expected to be sentenced in federal court over human trafficking charges, involving the shipping of 44 ‘field labourers’ from Thailand.

The Kapolei-based company grows a variety of foods including cantaloupe, lettuce, zucchini, apples, bananas, parsley, onions, watermelon, beans, eggplant, cabbage and pumpkin. Alec Sou is the farm’s president and general manager, and Mike Sou is its vice president and operations manager. Today, the farm’s 3,000 acres are the most productive in the islands. In Hawaii’s mild climate, they grow crops year-round.

The Sou’s allegedly offered the workers employment, award wages and long-term contracts, before changing the terms of the agreement upon their arrival and leaving them to cover the cost of transportation. Reports of neglect have been prevalent during the court proceedings, while most of the victims explain that they had been tricked and then trapped into working on the farm.

Despite the serious charges and breaches of international human rights acts, the Sou’s are being supported by various local community groups, rival businesses, fellow farmers and two former state governors, who claim the pairs breaches are ‘minor’ and that their dire importance to the islands food supply must be considered in their sentencing.

“The incarceration of Alec and Mike Sou would threaten our food security and could endanger our future sustainability on Oahu,” wrote Kioni Dudley, president of the community group Friends of Makakilo. “Find some method of punishment which allows them to stay in their positions at Aloun Farms.”

The Sou brothers are believed to be asking for a light sentence with little or no jail time, based in part on the idea that their farm in too valuable to go untended during their incarceration. Plea deals called for during the case stipulate up to 5-years in prison.

The prosecution states that the Sou’s had knowingly manipulated the Thai workers into employment on their farms while they also failed to pay for their transportation costs as is required by law. The Sou’s have denied providing only cramped shipping containers as residence for the workers, with witness testimonies also omitting accommodation measures.

The workers were trapped on the farm, forced to choose between long hours with low wages and an unpromising future in Thailand, said former farm worker Somporn Khanja, who arrived at the farm in 2004.

“I’d been lied to, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” the 45-year-old Khanja said through his wife, acting as an interpreter. “I hope justice is being done. I believe in American law. It takes so long, but it’s good. In America, we have to wait.”

Human trafficking opponents say the Sou’s deserve more than a slap on the wrist for their crimes, “This is America, and that kind of thing should not be allowable,” said Kathryn Xian, spokeswoman for the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery in Honolulu. “They’re basically ripping off the American way of life and exploiting it to the ultimate worst.”

Defence attorney’s meanwhile have continuously claimed that the Sou’s are repentant and have admitted their guilt in a situation where, “nobody was tortured, nobody was abused, nobody was physically threatened in any manner.”

Reporter : John Weston   Photo : Internet   Category : Thailand News

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