Popular Kombucha Brand GT's Living Foods Proven To Have Abused Workers

Kombucha mogul and owner of GT's Living Foods, George Thomas "GT" Dave, often tells a story about the early years of his successful company. One of GT's first managers died of a heart attack after confiding to Dave about marital strife. Apparently, every batch of kombucha the manager touched became moldy, teaching the owner a lesson about the energetic purity needed to make kombucha. "It's truly a living, breathing, empathetic, sensitive living food," Dave recently claimed (per the Los Angeles Times), "which is why it keeps me honest with how we behave as a corporation." Dave's latest retelling of this anecdote was part of sworn testimony in his own defense over accusations of GT's Living Foods' abusive working conditions. In a ruling filed last week, presiding judge William Highberger found that the company had hired laborers without legal status so that they could be "intimidated and abused" and then subjected many of them to "deplorable and abusive and disturbing working conditions."

This ruling is only the latest development in a decade-long consolidated lawsuit against GT's Living Foods. To date, the court has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to various employees over unpaid back wages, nonpayment of wages, or, in one case, stealing money garnished from wages to pay off an outstanding third-party debt. There are many other linked lawsuits of a similar nature accusing GT's Living Foods of violating California labor laws, affecting thousands of employees over the last 10 years.

If you're exploited, you can speak up

Publicly, GT's Living Foods has come to dominate — and help create — the commercial fermented probiotic market since its inception in 1995, being offered in major retail chains from Whole Foods to Walmart across the country. Its owner describes himself in quasi-religious tones. After telling Inc. in 2015 that he was conceived after his parents made love in the lotus position, Dave inferred that his birth helped heal an ailing sibling ("I'm not saying I was the Messiah," he confided, "but there was something that happened that was pretty unique and special"). As part of his testimony in the recent worker exploitation case, Dave claimed that lawsuits are merely the result of success and "the cross I bear." 

As evidenced by their shocking testimony, any actual burdens were being actually borne privately by Dave's exploited employees. They spoke of factory conditions so hot that their sweat fell into the brewing tea, controlled (and sometimes interrupted) bathroom breaks, and shifts lasting as long as 14 hours — after which the employees were made to sign a timesheet reflecting only eight hours of work and releasing GT's Living Foods of any future claims. "I want all of this to come out into the light because I know other companies are doing similar things," plaintiff Simon Rojas told the Los Angeles Times. "I want people to know that you don't have to keep silent — if you're exploited, you can speak up."