Haley Wrinkle, ILRF intern
Today ILRF is releasing a report on labor abuses in the global pineapple industry. We are concurrently tackling this issue from a trade perspective at the US Trade Representative (USTR).
ILRF is asking the USTR today that multinational Dole Foods not be given requested GSP benefits for its pineapple products exported from the Philippines. The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is a US trade preference program that was established with the intent of fostering economic development. While Dole’s expansion in the Philippines will certainly lead to economic growth, the critical question is: growth for whom?
Up to this point it has chiefly been Dole itself, along with wealthy landlords, which have benefited from the corporation’s operations in the Philippines. Dole Foods is a fortune 500 company privately owned by billionaire David Murdock, and has netted an average of $45.4 million in profits annually over the last ten years.1 In contrast, little of the wealth generated by the corporation has gone to its farmworkers, who continue to labor in sweatshop-like conditions in the fields making poverty level wages. Contractual Pineapple harvesters who labor for Dole are paid on average a mere US $1.86 per day, nearly three times less than the Filipino minimum wage.2 The cost-savings provided by more duty free access to U.S. consumers will likely enrich Dole far more than its workers.
Dole’s continued expansion—while not benefiting farmers, is neither fostering the development of healthy local markets, critical to sustainable development. Instead, its expansion means taking more land for food export at a time when Filipinos are struggling to feed themselves. Where the Philippines used to be a net exporter of its staple food, rice, the country has become the world’s largest importer of the now expensive commodity.3 The government has begun to provide subsidized rice to the poor due to the recently doubled cost of imported rice, causing a swelling deficit.4 Taking over more lands for export crops without dealing with the roots of the food security crisis will only further stunt local markets and exacerbate matters.5
Capital investment is a necessary part of economic development. However, Dole’s presence in the Philippines and years of expansion and employment have shown that capital investment, while important, is not the only input needed for development, if it is to reach the people. While it has the power to foster sustainable development through the creation of decent jobs, Dole instead has become part of the systemic inequality which plagues the Philippines.
Dole claims that the “development” it brings will combat terrorism in Mindanao province. Ironically, the corporation’s expansion, if it continues in the same pattern, may actually fuel terrorism in the Philippines. The fact that Dole deprives its laborers of basic rights to regular work, freedom of association, and acceptable conditions at work has the potential to exacerbate political tensions. This is one of the reasons GSP mandates that labor rights accompany trade preferences: “The denial of internationally recognized workers rights in developing countries tend to perpetuate poverty, to limit the benefits of economic growth and development, to narrow privileged elites, and to sew the seeds of social instability and political rebellion.”6 There is, further, a long history in the Philippines of peasant unrest over precisely the type of land control and inequity that Dole practices, making the situation potentially dangerous.7
If economic growth is to cause sustainable development, its impact on the poor must be addressed. Equity and workers rights are necessary components of healthy development. Dole has promoted neither through its pineapple production the Philippines.
1“Fortune 500.” CNN Money. 15 Oct. 2008.
2Field research conducted by ILRF partners in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Saranggani between June 2006 and June 2007.
3Bello, Walden. “Manufacturing a Food Crisis.” The Nation (15 May 2008). 15 Oct. 2008.
4“Food crisis in the Philippines: give us this day our daily rice.” Fair Trade Alliance. Fair Trade Web. 15 Oct. 2008.
5De La Torre Ugarte, Daniel G. and Sophia Murphy. “The Global Food Crisis: Creating an Opportunity for Fairer and More Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems Worldwide.” Heinrich Boll Foundation. Ecofair Trade Dialogue Discussion Papers No. 11 (Oct. 2008).
6House report 98-1090 page 5111.
7Fuwa, Nobuhiko. “Politics and Economics of Land Reform in the Philippines: A Survey.” Chiba University (May 2000).