Del Monte is the third largest banana company in the world. It is generally the least responsive of the big three companies, compared to Chiquita and Dole (in 2011, it declined to respond at all to a campaign to address gender discrimination and sexual harassment on banana plantations).
Some of its most prominent labor conflicts in Latin America in recent years have been in Guatemala where the company has sought to cut back on its union operations. Del Monte's banana union in Guatemala is SITRABI, Guatemala's largest private sector union. An international campaign targeted Del Monte in 1999 when thugs violently assaulted the leaders of the SITRABI banana union and again in 2003 when workers were fired and criminal charges were brought against the union. In September 2007, a Del Monte banana union leader was murdered in Guatemala, prompting an international campaign; the case was included in the first labor compliant filed under CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement.
As of November 2011, four more Del Monte banana union members had been murdered in 2011, making 2011 the bloodiest year in over a decade for Del Monte banana union members in Guatemala. Another trade unionist was murdered in February 2012; USLEAP focused significantly in 2012 on violence against Del Monte banana workers in Guatemala, impunity, and the CAFTA labor complaint.
USLEAP and Past History with Del Monte
USLEAP campaigns against Del Monte when requested by banana workers.
The 1999 attack on union leaders by thugs in Guatemala (see below) forcing Del Monte union leaders to flee into excile with their families sparked a major campaign led in the U.S. by USLEAP. It led in 2001 to the first conviction in modern Guatemalan history for violence against trade unionists.
2007: Del Monte Banana Union Leader Murdered in Guatemala
The September 23, 2007 murder of Marco Tulio Ramirez, a leader of the Del Monte banana union SITRABI in Guatemala, sparked international protests joined by USLEAP, and local charges of possible Del Monte complicity. Del Monte and SITRABI, with the assistance of the International Union of Foodworkers, formed a commission to address issues arising out of the murder. The Guatemalan government deemed the murder a common crime and refused to assign the case to the special prosecutor who handles violence against trade unionists.
2003: Workers fired and later reinstated at Del Monte plantations in Guatemala
After a handful of banana workers were fired at Del Monte's Bobos plantations in July 2003, relatively limited protests by the union led to escalating rounds of firings and protests. The manager effectively abandoned the plantations, leaving 300 workers without work, and then filed criminal and civil charges against the union that led to a court decision to put union dues into escrow, threatening the solvency of the union.
Interventions by the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), the AFL-CIO and others helped secure a resolution of the conflict. Most of banana workers who had been abandoned later returned to work after a new manager took over the plantations.
1999-2000: Workers Fight Violence and Union Busting in Guatemala
In October 1999, leaders of the SITRABI (Sindicato de Trabajadores Bananeros de Izabal) banana union representing Del Monte Fresh Produce workers were forced at gunpoint to flee for their lives with their families. The violent intimidation thwarted a legal walkout that the union had been planning to protest the illegal firings of 900 workers from the Bobos plantations who were replaced by non-union workers paid less and with fewer benefits.
An interntional campaign achieved an acceptable resolution between the company and the union in 2000.
Enormous international pressure also succeeded in forcing the Guatemalan government to bring to a trial a year and a half later those who had participated in the violent intimidation of the SITRABI leaders.
2001: Trade Pressure Used to Fight Impunity
In an effort to create needed pressure on the Guatemalan government to protect those involved in the trial, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) made an unprecedented move and "self-initiated" a review of Guatemala's trade benefits. Exiled SITRABI leader Enrique Villeda, USLEAP, and the AFL-CIO testified at a March 2001 hearing before USTR about the case. The trade pressure succeed in securing a trial and the first convictions in modern Guatemalan history for violence against trade unionists. However, the effective outcome of the trial resulted in the criminals going free since they avoided jail time by paying fines. Nevertheless, on March 31, 2001, USTR announced that it would end its review (i.e. probation). USLEAP issued a pres release objecting to USTR's decision to do so.