Dole Food Company Inc. released a $500 million initial public equity offering (IPO) today. By becoming a public company, Dole will be required to make its corporate governance more transparent and accessible to the public by providing institutional investors and individual shareholders with the opportunity to become stakeholders in Dole’s policies and practices worldwide. For concerned investors, Dole’s IPO represents an unprecedented opportunity to review and revise the more questionable policies of the company. This blog is the fourth blog in this series of exposing Dole and its history of labor rights violations. You can read the other blogs here, here and here.
ILRF has taken this opportunity to engage with investors, NGOs, and unions to send a letter to Dole expressing our concerns related to its labor rights violations. The letter was sent to Dole yesterday and included over 35 organizations including International Labor Rights Forum, CREA: Center for Reflection, Education and Action, Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility, Harrington Investments, and Domini Social Investments, Trillium Asset Management, and Green America. You can read the press release here. An except of the letter is below:
"We would like to take this opportunity to raise some of our human rights and labor rights concerns in relation to Dole’s supply chain practices in hopes of contributing to the future long-term success of Dole as a responsible corporate actor. In addition to our concern for those individuals affected by Dole’s activities, we are also concerned that alleged breaches of workers’ rights throughout Dole’s corporate supply chain may impact long term shareholder value.
"While Dole claims adherence to high social standards, we are concerned by credible reports such as “The Sour Taste of Pineapple: How an Expanding Export Industry Undermines Workers and Their Communities” and “A Valentine’s Day Report: Worker Justice and Basic Rights on Flower Plantations in Colombia and Ecuador” by the International Labor Rights Forum claiming that Dole has pursued management practices that subject many of Dole’s workers throughout its global supply chain to sub-standard working conditions."
The sweet taste of Dole’s pineapple also has a bitter back story. Dole’s regular workers in the Philippines, Costa Rica and elsewhere are gradually being replaced by contract workers who have no direct employer, and are consequently denied many of the rights enjoyed by regular workers. This is a point that ILRF brought up during a recent testimony to the U.S. Government concerning Dole. Dole has also increasingly outsourced pineapple production in the Philippines to independent growers, often under unfair contract terms. This has lead to poverty and income insecurity amongst small growers as they are subject to Dole’s rules and regulations.
Dole workers’ struggles to unionize become all the more poignant in light of the reports of the substandard conditions they face at work. Dole workers around the world have demonstrated that they earn poverty-level wages, are exposed to hazardous chemicals and are obligated to work overtime hours without proper compensation, amongst other concerns.
What does this mean for investors? Despite years of public pressure from groups requesting that Dole improve its labor policies and practices, Dole’s inability to adhere to social responsibility standards has left the management unable to improve the company’s brand image and customer loyalty. If any of the alleged breaches of workers’ rights were present in a publicly-owned Dole, investors’ financial returns would carry the risk. It is therefore essential that investors who wish to contribute to the long-term success of Dole compel the company to be a responsible corporate actor.
Because the capital that investors bring to a publicly traded company is often critical for its survival and growth, investors can and do play a large role in shaping a company’s policies. Some groups representing socially responsible investors, such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Calvert, set guidelines which can dramatically alter a company’s sensitivity towards human rights issues.
Long term investors have strong incentives to be socially responsible and hold those companies they invest in accountable. Some people will always invest for the quick gain in the short run, but responsible investors look for companies to form a policy of stable, long term growth and reinvestment. The spate of short term investment that fueled our latest financial crisis has reaffirmed the value of thinking in the long term.
The long term investor is faced with a number of problems which have solutions based in socially responsible business practices. Ethical questions can be a litmus test for a company’s long term prospects. How does a company treat the workers in its supply chain? A company’s poor treatment of its workers can stain its image and hamper its growth. Does the company reinvest effectively in the regions where it operates? Not doing so can threaten the stability of the region’s people and environment. A company’s poor pay and labor practices might also prevent potential customers in an area from developing sustainable new markets.
Returning to Dole, the public trading of this long-private company gives investors the rare opportunity to both shift a company’s practices and revitalize its operations At the moment, local organizations report that tangible progress for workers employed by Dole’s suppliers has not been achieved. Dole has exhibited a pattern and practice of failing to effectively enforce agreed changes to company policy. Now is the chance for investors to tear Dole away from any actions that harm its long term prospects. With firm guidance and carefully attuned investors, Dole can become a company that promotes a stable, sustainable prosperity for its investors and its workforce.