Corporations Sue Hawaiian Government and Attempt to Overturn Laws They Say Violate Their Constitutional Rights

November 2014

“This place has been taken away by the sugar cane industry and the pineapple industry a long time ago. We all know that.” — Dr. Maureen Traub

Corporations are suing Hawai’i and Kauai Counties for violating corporate constitutional “rights” after both counties passed two restrictive ordinances on genetically modified crops (GMOs).[i] Last year two ordinances, 960 (on Kauai) and 13-121 (on Hawaii Island), passed with widespread support from island residents. The laws were drafted out of concern for the massive amount of pesticide spraying that is necessary for maintaining the GMO crops and for the “GMO drift” that contaminates non-GMO crops. Supporters organized through local grassroots groups like, Stop Poisoning Paradise, and shared their stories via testimonials on the website.

"As an organic farm inspector, I have seen first-hand beekeepers in the State lose their ability to sell certified organic honey because their forage areas have been compromised by neighboring GMO fields." — Louisa Wooton of Kauai Kunana Dairy

"As a small business that relies on both local fruit and honey products and a strong visitor economy, I will be marching with other business owners in strong support of Bill 2491. Visitors who come into my store are in disbelief about pesticide use on the island, and many people have continued to email me about their concerns even after leaving the island." — Stephanie Krieger, owner of Nani Moon Meadery

“We need full disclosure to study the impacts these chemicals are having on our soil, water and wildlife." — Dr. Carl Berg of Surfrider Foundation

The suit to overturn Ordinance 13-121 on Hawaii Island is brought by the Biotechnology Industry Organization along with the Cattlemen’s Council, the Hawai’i Floriculture, the Nursery Association, and others. A similar suit was brought against Kauai County Ordinance 960 by DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. along with other biotech companies.[ii]

The corporations argue that the laws violate their corporate constitutional “rights”; including their “right” to grow GMOs and the right to engage in commerce. They also argue that local municipalities have no right to pass such laws because state and federal laws override local laws. In one article, a spokesperson for DuPont Pioneer, a plaintiff in the suit against Kauai, is quoted on that point, “As we have maintained from the outset,” she said, “the state and federal government already have comprehensive regulation of pesticides and GMOs and the County of Kauai has no power to regulate in these areas.” [iii]

Hawaii Island, Kauai, and communities across the country that pass laws to protect their communities are running into the same problem: they don't have the legal authority to say "no.” The rights asserted by the corporations represent a corporate structure of law that is in inherent conflict with democracy and our fundamental right of local, community self-government.[iv] Until the false legal doctrine of corporate constitutional rights is addressed, corporations will continue to use the constitution to take rights away from the people.


Two local, grassroots groups are fighting back against this pressure by the biotech industry.

  • SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina) is a self-organized grassroots movement of and for the people of the Hawaiian Islands. At this juncture, SHAKA is putting its resources into a voter initiative in Maui County to restrict GMOs, they are not (as of yet) challenging the basic structure of law regarding corporate rights.
  • Stop Poisoning Paradise does community education, organizing, and builds a support network for the community concerns.