Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bumble Bee CEO to Faleomavaega: You’re a Liar

In response to a recent op-ed piece in The Hill newspaper, in which the ailing Delegate Eni Faleomavaega argued against reducing the content of U.S.-caught and processed tuna in the federal school lunch program, Bumble Bee chief executive Chris Lischewski has called untrue the Delegate’s assertion that Bumble Bee tuna is processed by child labor in Thailand.

“Not only are these allegations false,” said Lischewski, “they are a cynical attempt, timed to a congressional action, to preserve Dongwon Industries’ monopoly of providing tuna to American schools.” Dongwon is the Korean parent company of StarKist.

The Bumble Bee CEO once was an ally of Faleomavaega, who a few years ago failed to get Congress to adopt his secret amendment to a Maritime bill that would have permitted foreign made ships to be U.S. flagged without offloading tuna at Pago Pago.  Lischewski went on to write in his own post on The Hill blog: “[I]t is absolutely slanderous to suggest that we use facilities that violate child labor standards. How do we know this? All of Bumble Bee’s suppliers must sign a statement saying they don’t use forced, trafficked or underage labor and we conduct regular onsite visits, along with paying for audits.”

Even though the secret amendment became an issue in one of Faleomavaega's election campaigns, he won and vowed he would reintroduce the measure in the next Congress, but never did.  Some time later, he said he had been misled on the issue.

Lischewski goes on to conclude “[Dongwon and Faleomavaega] hope that this will distract people from realizing that the monopoly they enjoy on the Buy American product that they are trying to preserve is entirely based on a foreign company using government exemptions from tariffs, minimum wage laws and other federal regulations enjoyed by the Territory of American Samoa and that the elimination of the monopoly will actually result in lower costs to our government and more healthy tuna on school lunch menus for our kids.”

This is an issue of supreme importance to American Samoa because loss of their monopoly in the American market could force StarKist to close its Pago Pago cannery, as Chicken of the Sea did in 2009, because they operate on thin profit margins.  A StarKist closure would throw thousands of people out of work and destroy the American Samoa economy.

It is fortunate that this issue is being played out in a publication like The Hill, which also is on line, because local coverage has borrowed heavily from a story in the paper as well as the opinion pieces offered by Faleomavaega and Lischewski.

Given Faleomavaega’s current incapacity and extended absence from Washington, it is likely his op-ed essay was largely penned by StarKist lobbyists but it is curious why he has not also kept the American Samoa public informed through the media and his website.  Perhaps Samoa News and Radio 93KHJ-FM have withheld publishing his releases on this issue because he adamantly refuses to discuss his physical condition. 

Even if that were the case, however, he easily could post information on his website, on which he has placed no news releases since an October 8 attack on the local Republican Party and his “In the News” section has no content whatsoever.  One would have thought he easily could have posted a link to his The Hill op-ed if nothing else.  Moreover, his website photograph appears to be at least 20 years out of date and contrasts sharply with the image taken from his Christmas video.  Both photos appear in the right column of this blog.

Several days have passed now since both Samoa News and have posted stories questioning his health and either he has not responded or they have chosen not to carry his reaction.  He told the paper he would be returning to Washington “as soon as possible” but no one knows what that means.  How important his physical presence in Washington will be in the StarKist effort to keep their school lunch market is unclear.  Whether he even will return before the vote is taken remains to be seen.

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