Apology from Gloriavale; public asked for forgiveness

Gloriavale's leaders say much has changed at the community since 2018. Photo: NZ Herald
Gloriavale's leaders say much has changed at the community since 2018. Photo: NZ Herald
The Gloriavale Christian Community has released a long open letter of apology, in which it outlines the significant changes it says have been made, and asks the public for forgiveness.

The 600-strong enclosed community at Lake Haupiri, inland from Greymouth, has been under growing pressure in recent weeks, after the Employment Court found three former members had been effectively employees from age six until they left, working up to 70 hours a week for the benefit of the community-owned businesses, which include large dairy farms and a meal plant, Value Proteins.

Westland Milk Products responded by saying it was investigating legal avenues to possibly suspend milk collection from Gloriavale's dairy farms, and meatworks are reconsidering their supply of offal to the community.

In an unprecedented two-page statement, the community today apologised, outlined the changes, and said its own people had been hurt.

The letter "draws a firm line in the sand between the past and the future".

The community's leaders said much had changed at Gloriavale since 2018 when their founder Hopeful Christian died, and the mantle passed to a new leader.

It had revised its governance and charted a new direction for the community.

"We are deeply saddened by the harm members of our community have experienced. We apologise for our role in failing to prevent and protect victims of labour exploitation and sexual abuse.

"We are seeking to reach out to those no longer in our community and encouraging them, along with our current members, to speak to us openly if they have experienced harm in any way."

It had put in place numerous procedures that made it safe for people in the community to share their experiences, and which allowed it to take steps to ensure people were loved and protected, with options for remedy.

It stated categorically that "child labour" was no longer used in any of its businesses. Health and safety policies were now fully aligned with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on child labour.

Gloriavale was actively engaged with all relevant regulatory authorities to ensure their ongoing oversight.

It had been independently reviewed by numerous government departments and agencies.

Its health and safety policy did not now permit children to enter its commercial business sites and the school's work transition programme was ended last year so that teenage children could continue with their senior education.

Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian. Photo: NZ Herald
Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian died in 2018. Photo: NZ Herald
Gloriavale recently restructured its commercial business operations to allow parents to be with their children from 3pm.

"Like thousands of other rural New Zealand families, we involved our children in the day-to-day practices of farm life with the intention of providing them opportunities to learn alongside us and gain life experience.

"As parents, we are working to understand the distinctions between household chores, farming duties appropriate for children, and commercial work, and we are committed to change with respect to our views and practices."

Gloriavale's highest ambition was to live peaceably as Christians and to raise the children within an environment of love, safety and security.

"We are a multi-facetted organization, much like any large extended family, a rural town, a club, a church or a hapu. While the land at Gloriavale and many of the assets are held by a charitable trust, the commercial companies are all tax paying entities and workers pay personal income tax on their share of earnings from the partnership.

"We also pay ACC levies. Individuals do not take welfare benefits, such as National Superannuation, along with many other government benefits they are legitimately entitled to."

Despite all its efforts to create a safe haven, it had been hurt as it discovered the extent of sexual offending.

"We have put in place extensive measures to ensure such events cannot recur."

A Child Protection Leads team had been established that answered directly to Oranga Tamariki, led by a senior external adviser appointed by Oranga Tamariki. It had worked with independent counsellors and external agencies to help the victims, and adopted a rigorous child protection policy.

An independent social worker nominated by Oranga Tamariki visits Gloriavale once a week.

"We make an absolute assurance that sex offenders will not work in our schools or directly with children. We urge people to reflect that it was our own children and grandchildren who were harmed -- more than anything we want to begin the healing process."

The community was developing better support for families within Gloriavale, including those who wished to leave.

New processes were also under way to support young people to make their own choice about whether life at Gloriavale was for them, and then fully supporting them in their decision.

"Families at Gloriavale are free to contact former Gloriavale family members, and anyone who has left our community can visit, if they respect our culture."

Members were updated regularly about Gloriavale's financial position, with a focus on raising awareness of where and how their money is used.

"We also have a new community advisory committee that is chaired by a Gloriavale mother. Gloriavale leavers do liaise with us and, despite public perceptions to the contrary, we do support leavers financially.

"In the past this has included cash payments, vehicles, tools for tradesmen, study fees and accommodation costs. We recognise that some leavers have not received adequate remuneration and we are correcting this."

Like any community, there would be disagreements between family members and neighbours, and instances where individuals fell short of the law.

"Our faith is built on forgiveness and the notion that as individuals we are neither perfect nor beyond reproach. Gloriavale remains the only home that most of those who live here have ever known, so any commercial boycott of Gloriavale's operations will have a significant impact on hundreds of lives."

Gloriavale also indirectly supported the livelihoods of the employees and families of a great many service businesses throughout the West Coast region.

"We reiterate that we denounce any and all offending that has occurred at Gloriavale. These actions are abhorrent to us, and our hearts go out to those who have suffered.

"We ask the public for forgiveness and to accept our open commitment and willingness to make significant changes. We hope this letter provides assurance that we are doing everything in our power to ensure the transgressions of the past are never repeated."

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter