When the founders of AOL and eBay retired, they planned a life of philanthropy. They were so busy saving the world they apparently didn't notice their own workers were being brutalized.
The Maui Pineapple Company, majority-owned by AOL co-founder Steve Case, for years obtained its workers through recruiting firm Global Horizons. A Global Horizons agent routinely intimidated and beat Maui Pineapple workers with a knife, gun and baseball bat and threatened to deport them if they failed to meet quotas, workers say in the new issue of Mother Jones. They didn't get enough food rations and had to sneak past a chain-link fence to buy Ramen noodles, or boil bitter leaves if they couldn't afford ramen. At least one fled the pineapple compound and its guard on foot.
Maui Pineapple, of which eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is also a primary shareholder, eventually severed its relationship with Global Horizons and told Mother Jones it was not aware of the workers' allegations at the time they were employed. But why wasn't the company, or it's tech-mogul shareholders, paying more attention? Omidyar and his wife started an entire charity dedicated to eradicating to fighting the global slave trade, after all, and Case's family Case Foundation is supposed to be "empowering" citizens "in the U.S. and around the globe." Would it have been so hard for them to notice their contractor Global Horizons was charging individual workers tens of thousands of dollars each in recruiting fees, as Mother Jones found, leaving said workers deeply in debt to and effectively indentured servants to the company?
The owner of Global Horizons told Mother Jones farm workers typically owed his company 45 percent to 80 percent "over and above each workers' wages," as the magazine put it. That was for the privilege of doing farm work and, in theory, getting adequate food, housing and health care.
If that sounds like modern slavery to you, you're in good company: The Feds barred Global Horizons from recruiting guest workers in 2006 and the Department of Justice is now investigating the company for human trafficking.
Yes, it sounds unforgivably brutal to make a worker pay off a $25,000 debt by confiscating 80 percent of his $9.50/hour farmhand wage. But it must also be pretty rough for a billionaire to convince people he's a big-hearted philanthropist while simultaneously employing imported indentured servants via extortionate labor practices. It's enough to make you want to close your Hawaiian pineapple plantation.
[Photo of Case, left, via Getty Images; Omidyar, right, via OnInnovation]