Beyond Business: Global Horizons, Maui Land & Pineapple Yield Sobering Reminder

Pierre Omidyar

In 2007, I invested $10 million in Maui Land and Pineapple Company, Inc. I was pleased to invest in a company that had such an important legacy here in Hawaii. I am a minor investor in the company. I have no involvement in operations.

In April 2008 my wife Pam and I learned that Maui Land and Pineapple (MLP) had for an 18-month period in 2004 and 2005 entered into a contract with a foreign labor supplier called Global Horizons. For nearly a century, MLP employed foreign labor on its farm—a common practice that has existed since Hawaii was a Kingdom and one of the key reasons Hawaii boasts such a wonderfully diverse population today. MLP’s decision to contract with Global Horizons was the result of a labor shortage and, at the time, extremely low unemployment rates.

Pam and I became aware of the MLP-Global Horizons relationship in April of 2008 because complaints were made against MLP by some of the former employees Global Horizons had supplied. The complaints alleged that Global Horizons and MLP had discriminated against, defrauded, and mistreated some of its Thai workers. According to a recent article in Mother Jones, there have been other, similar suits against Global Horizons that are the subject of an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Pam and I are making a public statement on this matter today because of our involvement with MLP and our desire to be forthcoming about our experience.

Pam and I were shocked and saddened by the allegations. Not just because we were concerned that a company we invested in—MLP—was party to such a complaint, but because, as philanthropists, we dedicate significant resources and personal energy to exposing and ending all forms of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Upon learning of the allegations against Global Horizons and MLP in 2008, we immediately contacted David Cole, then MLP’s Chairman & CEO, with our concerns. We encouraged and supported MLP’s decision to launch a rigorous internal investigation. We also put MLP in touch with experts in the field of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, including Dr. Kevin Bales, the founder of Free the Slaves, in order to help the company create formal internal policies and procedures that would ensure this kind of thing never happened under their watch.

This experience taught us several valuable lessons. The most important of which was this: It’s up to each of us to learn as much as we can about the labor and supply chain practices of the companies, brands, and products we support. I’ll admit I never thought to ask detailed questions about labor practices of subcontracted workers at MLP before making an investment. But one need not even be making a business investment to face the threat of unknowingly supporting those who perpetrate the crime of trafficking and slavery. The situation with Global Horizons and MLP is a reminder of how complicated and difficult supply chains, including labor supply chains, can be—not just abroad but here at home too.

Today, across all Omidyar family entities we have a simple policy: We do not invest in, patronize, or support any organization, company, or product which is known to have slavery or trafficking in its supply chain or anywhere else in its operations. Period. It’s a zero tolerance policy. If we learn of something like this across any of our organizations or investments, we take immediate action to help ensure the situation is corrected. If this is not possible, we terminate our involvement.

Globally, Pam and I have a goal of ending mass atrocities and modern-day slavery. We’re very active through an organization we founded several years ago, Humanity United. Locally, through the Ulupono Initiative, we’re looking for ways to create sustainable agriculture practices that lead to highly productive farms and ultimately higher wages for workers—one of the root causes behind the MLP-Global Horizons case.

Read the story on Civil Beat here.