Dole Banana Workers Unpaid for 4 Years of Sunday Labor

Dole remains public enemy number one for the Coordination of Latin American Banana Worker Unions (COLSIBA), the European Banana Action Network (EUROBAN), USLEAP and other campaigners seeking to stop the decline in respect for worker rights in the Latin American banana sector.   Dole’s failure to address the most obvious of violations is spurring consideration of ways to escalate an international campaign against Dole.   

In a recent example of Dole’s anti-union stance, the company has failed to secure the reinstatement of union workers fired by a contractor at a Dole farm in Peru in January 2008 who were protesting not being paid for working Sundays from 2003 to 2007.  

While Dole has put on a face of concern, sending a Vice President to Peru and backing “dialogue” between the union and Dole’s subcontractor, it has sought to position itself as some sort of outside third party.  It then ducks and weaves to cite various excuses to justify the firings (e.g. reporting that the firings were justified under the law on the grounds that the workers abandoned their posts while the Peruvian union SITAG says they were simply taking their meal break).  Meanwhile, workers previously fired have also not been reinstated and the original source of the conflict, failure of workers to be paid for working Sundays for four years, remains unresolved.   

Simultaneously, Dole continues its public relations offensive, recently inaugurating a school in Ecuador and announcing on Earth Day an agreement to purchase carbon offsets from the Costa Rican government.   While not unwelcome, these steps are not a substitute for recognizing basic worker rights and engaging in good faith negotiations.

For Chiquita and Del Monte, current attention is focused on the violence in Guatemala (see page 1 story).  SITRABI, the Guatemalan union that represents Del Monte workers, reports that Del Monte security continues to be unable or unwilling to prevent recurring threats against union members on its plantations, despite negotiations aimed to address these concerns following the September 2007 murder of SITRABI union leader Marco Tulio Ramirez.   And UNSITRAGUA, the Guatemalan union that represents Chiquita workers, notes that the March 2008 murder of a founder and the February 2008 rape of the daughter of the current general secretary of SINTRABANSUR banana union at the Chiquita supplier Olga Maria plantation followed months of violent intimidation against the union and its effort to establish a toe hold on the non-union Pacific Coast.

Chiquita’s Move to Africa

Long-term threats to unionized production in Latin America grew closer to reality when Chiquita announced this spring that it would undertake production in Angola and Mozambique that would in a few years time supply up to 30% of its European market.  This move will presumably displace a significant portion of its Latin American production that now supplies Europe.  The shift to Africa, which Del Monte and Dole have already begun, is not unexpected given the changes in European trade regulations in 2006 mandated by the World Trade Organization that have increased global competition and lessened protections for Latin American production.

Chiquita on Hot Seat in Colombia

Chiquita’s previously acknowledged payments to paramilitary and guerilla groups in Colombia was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment on May 11.  Chiquita has been sued by victims of violence committed by both groups, to which Chiquita paid what it claims was protection money.  Last year Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine to the Justice Department for payments to known terrorist groups.

The CBS story interviewed a prominent paramilitary leader who claimed that Del Monte and Dole also paid protection money, a claim that both companies have denied.   Meanwhile, Rep. William Delahunt, D-MA, is investigating the extensiveness of U.S. company “protection” payments in Colombia.