Westland Dairy could cancel Gloriavale’s milk supply contract following evidence of child labor and worker exploitation

Evidence of worker exploitation and use of child labor at businesses by the Gloriavale Christian Community could see them dumped by big customers.

Westland Dairy Company is “investigating legal avenues” to suspend milk collection from Gloriavale’s West Coast dairy farms.

The UMF Honey Association board will consider UMF licenses for Gloriavale’s Forest Gold and Lamohka honey brands, and its Moo Chews milk treats for children, and Pure Vitality deer velvet supplements will also reduce risk for their Fernmark licenses, a government-stamped approval for exporters.

These moves followed a recent landmark employment court ruling in favor of three former community members who admitted they were employees rather than volunteers, and described children as young as six being hit, publicly shamed and starved if they did not work hard enough.

Professor of Ethics and Sustainability Leadership at AUT Marjo Lips-Wiersma says companies that continue to do business with Gloriavale are risking reputational damage in light of the recent court decision.

READ MORE:
* Boy who lost three fingers at Gloriavale honey company drops case after facing ‘undue pressure’
* Gloriavale kids made to work day without sleep, one chained to steel post, court told
* Sent to work at age 6, beaten and starved: One boy’s experience of ‘volunteering’ at Gloriavale

Gloriavale has three dairy properties, and its 503 hectare dairy farm at Dobson is advertised for sale on TradeMe for $ 7.9m.  (File photo)

Stuff

Gloriavale has three dairy properties, and its 503 hectare dairy farm at Dobson is advertised for sale on TradeMe for $ 7.9m. (File photo)

“Now that it is clear that not only was child labor used, but the physical and psychological abuse of such children, no company should be associated with Gloriavale.

“From a reputational perspective, they would apply the newspaper headline test. Do I want it to be reported that my company directly or indirectly profits from child labor and abuse? “

Westland Dairy chief executive Richard Wyeth welcomed the Employment Court decision, saying it would further protect companies’ rights to children, employees and others across the entire supply chain.

“Dairy farms controlled by Gloriavale, like all Westland suppliers, are contractually obliged to comply with New Zealand employment law and standards, and keep up-to-date employment records. Failure to do so could lead to termination of that contract. “

In 2019 Gloriavale expanded its property portfolio with the purchase of Lake Brunner Station.

Supplied

In 2019 Gloriavale expanded its property portfolio with the purchase of Lake Brunner Station.

Westland Dairy, owned by Chinese Yili Group, is reviewing its contract with Gloriavale Farms, and Wyeth says it will work through animal welfare and disposal of milk issues due to an abrupt end to milk collection, but the volume of milk will have a minimal. impact on company operations.

According to its annual financial statement to Charities Services, Gloriavale’s Christian Church Community Trust owns 2960 dairy cows, but since 2009 the trust has consistently reported it had no full or part-time employees, and by 2021 it accepted 40 volunteers with 23,600 hours of work over the previous year.

Members of the West Coast farming community were reluctant to speak on the record, but many said they had long concerns about employment practices at Gloriavale, and wider issues around the treatment of the 550 or so residents, many of whom were children, and they were pleased to see something being done at last.

One said that for many years Gloriavale businesses have been regarded as big contributors to the West Coast economy, but questioned at what cost families had left the community, and those who remained inside it.

Another, although happy to see the local tide of public opinion, fears the financial impact of Westland Dairy refusing to take Gloriavale milk would see community members “eat porridge for six weeks”.

Gloriavale leaver Levi Courage, 18, who now lives in Timaru, gave evidence of working conditions that ended at Gloriavale as a child and teenager.

Maddison Gourlay / Stuff

Gloriavale leaver Levi Courage, 18, who now lives in Timaru, gave evidence of working conditions that ended at Gloriavale as a child and teenager.

Considerable evidence of the key role children played in the community’s commercial enterprises came out during the court case.

Along with Gloriavale’s dairy farms, its honey, moss and pet food operations came under scrutiny.

Employment Court Chief Judge Christina Inglis said her decision describing the duties described by plaintiffs could not be classified as “chores” required of a child by a caregiver.

“It was laborious, often dangerous, requiring physical exertion over extended periods of time, and it was for commercial gain. The work was not assigned by the plaintiffs’ parents, but by the Gloriavale leadership. “

Levi Courage, one of the three young Gloriavale leavers who took the Employment Court case, gave evidence of morning milkings from the age of six or seven.

Gloriavale's Manuka honey brands hold UMF licenses that could be revoked if the body issues issues which have been breached by its standards, and they have brought the license into disrepute.

Brya Ingram / Stuff

Gloriavale’s Manuka honey brands hold UMF licenses that could be revoked if the body issues issues which have been breached by its standards, and they have brought the license into disrepute.

He worked before and after school at the Moo Chews business, and when the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) conducted a quality assurance audit on the Forest Gold honey business, he was told to hide in a chemical store for three hours until the auditor. was gone, because at 14 he was an underage worker.

As a 15-year-old he had to put up to 70 hours a week on the honey plant during peak season as early as 3am, and had ended up exhausted and bleeding hands after working 50 hours without sleep to fill 200,000 jars. three days.

A 17-year-old who lost part of three fingers at Gloriavale’s beebox factory in 2019 dropped his employment court case last year amid allegations he was under undue pressure from family members still living at Gloriavale, and others wanting him to move on. it.

Gloriavale also has a rendering plant, Value Proteins, which is licensed by the Ministry of Primary Industries to produce bone meal by trucking products from meat plants and abattoirs around the country.

Young boys suffered injuries while working at the now closed Gloriavale moss business

Supplied

Young boys suffered injuries while working at the now closed Gloriavale moss business

Value Proteins is a member of the Meat Industry Association and chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said it encourages members to “meet high ethical standards and labor practices at all times.”

Court witness Faithful Disciple described how a Gloriavale leader told him not to use the words “employee”, “employer” or “wages” when WorkSafe officials arrested the meal plant in late 2020, and he was ordered to keep himself busy. unable to talk to him.

Others told witnesses that people were being schooled to say they were volunteers when external agencies questioned their work status, and they were not told to record more than eight hours of work daily.

The use of volunteers was central to the case before the Employment Court and the judgment noted that volunteer status could only be justified if the work was performed for non-economic reasons, and without competing with paid employees.

“The fact that the same kind of work is usually performed for pay can be an indicator that it is economical in nature, and it also means unfair competition with paid employees. The work that the plaintiffs were doing fits that description. “

Hopeful Disciple and family leaving Gloriavale.  Leaver numbers have escalated in recent years, and the high proportion of children puts added pressure on those working age to run community businesses.

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Hopeful Disciple and family leaving Gloriavale. Leaver numbers have escalated in recent years, and the high proportion of children puts added pressure on those working age to run community businesses.

Although Gloriavale could be liable for millions in unpaid wages, it faces other commercial consequences.

Honey brands Forest Gold and Lamohka have licenses issued by the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association, well-recognized internationally and regarded as important for Manuka honey exporters, but they may be jeopardy as a result of court findings.

Association chief executive John Rawcliffe said the UMF board had the power to terminate licenses and a meeting at the end of the month would determine the Gloriavale brands’ terms of their licenses, and the association’s code of practice and values.

Apiculture New Zealand represents about 2500 hobbyists and commercial beekeepers, and honey exporters.

Chief executive Karin Kos said purchases were constantly driven by ethical considerations, and employment issues at Gloriavale could be damaging.

“We have an excellent international reputation for our honey and this has the potential to undermine the confidence of our consumers.”

The Moo Chews website says the product is designed and made by

Screenshot

The Moo Chews website says the product is designed and made by “Kiwi mums dads” who live at Gloriavale.

Fernmark is reviewing export licenses held by Moo Chews and Pure Vitality because licenses must comply with all New Zealand laws and relevant regulations, and “be of good character and repute” in order to retain their government endorsement.

Fernmark chief executive David Downs said the issue was complicated by the fact that Moo Chews and Pure Vitality were not among the Gloriavale companies involved in the Employment Court case, and it may take about a month to work through a decision.

Moo Chews experienced a backlash last year when it was revealed as a manufacturer of baby milk-based snack, leading two distributors to pull out when they learned where the product was made because of concerns about employment practices.

Moo Chews claimed production at Gloriavale company Alpine Health Manufacturing was halted while an investigation was completed, and it has since resumed.

No details of the investigation or its findings were provided, and in a written statement Moo Chews said the Gloriavale had challenges like any community.

“Work is ongoing there, but leaders and managers are committed to upholding and protecting the health, wellbeing and happiness of all members there.”

The company declined to say how much of its output was exported saying the information was commercially sensitive, but its Facebook page appeared to show Moo Chews in Asian advertising.

Lips-Wiersma said the Gloriavale case highlights the need for companies to consider supply chain ethics.

Employment issues in the Christian community should be red-flagged and prompted by those who did business with its companies “to start asking some direct questions.”

She said being associated with poor labor practices could prompt retailers or customers to withdraw their loyalty, and share prices might fall.

“Current employees may no longer be proud to work for you and potential talented employees will not apply.”

Social licensing is also important, Lips-Wiersma said.

“While the wider community may have supported Gloriavale because it is good for business, they may now rethink this and wonder if it is not better for the community if Gloriavale members get paid, pay taxes and have the freedom to buy what they want from the local. retailers. “

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