California garlic producers accused of exploiting Chinese prison labor

Screenshot 2018-01-13 at 06.52.14.pngGilroy garlic giant Christopher Ranch has been exposed in a documentary series on Netflix about food industry scandals. The company is accused of using unfair business practices and marketing garlic peeled by Chinese prison labor.

The garlic producer is hoping a lawsuit will get Netflix to back off.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the “Rotten” series describes its “Garlic Breath” episode, the third of six, as “a tale of betrayal and revenge” that “bubbles between America and China’s garlic commerce relationship.” It tells of a dispute among American garlic growers over Chinese imports that played out in lawsuits and regulatory proceedings in recent years.

In the episode, a lawyer for some Chinese exporters recruits a couple of small New Mexico growers to complain to U.S. regulators about Southern California importer Harmoni International Spice and Christopher Ranch, described as one of Harmoni’s biggest buyers.

The complaint accuses Harmoni of colluding with Christopher Ranch to block regulatory reviews of Harmoni’s Chinese imports while slapping competing Chinese imports with pricey duties aimed at protecting U.S. growers from foreign “dumping” of under-priced product.

Joining the New Mexico growers in the complaint was a Chinese garlic wholesaler who videotaped what he said was Chinese prisoners being forced to peel garlic for U.S. consumers with their teeth because their fingernails were so worn. The video showed that garlic being loaded into boxes with labels he said was for Harmoni and Golden King, which he claimed was a Christopher Ranch trademark.

Not true, Ken Christopher, a third generation farmer and Christopher Ranch’s executive vice president, said Friday, adding the company’s lawyers have demanded a retraction. He acknowledged declining to answer questions for the episode because “we knew that the narrative was going to be bad for us,” but said, “We’re not this terrible entity they portray us to be.”

Representatives of Los Gatos-based Netflix, which streams the 55-minute episode to its subscribers, had no response Friday. The show’s producer, Zero Point Zero, based in New York, said in a statement: “The series was created to hold the food industry accountable, and we stand by the reporting in the episode and in the series.”

This should come as no surprise to anyone. California growers have made billion over decades, exploiting workers in this state. Why would we expect them to change their behavior in a global market?

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