Over the past few years, Dole Foods has achieved consistent growth in revenues. Fueled in part by expanding pineapple and banana production by its subsidiaries or exclusive suppliers around the globe, Dole’s global production has been steadily increasing along with its revenue. To achieve sustained growth, Dole has worked closely with national and local governments to gain access land for its farming needs and to shift local farming into producing for Dole. In Colombia and the Philippines, where politics and government are dominated by the military or paramilitary organizations, and which are two of the world’s two most dangerous countries for trade union leaders, expanded production for Dole has been marred with allegations of violence and intimidation of local workers and farmers by the local military and paramilitary units.
In Colombia, a group of 73 plaintiffs recently filed a civil wrongful death suit against Dole in a California court alleging that the company hired local units of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an illegal right-wing paramilitary group that was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2001, to murder labor union organizers or small farmers fighting attempts by Dole to obtain their land and plant bananas. According to the suit, DOLE “made arrangements with the AUC’s founder, Carlos Castaño, to provide major support to the AUC in exchange for ‘security services’, . . . including driving small farmers from their land to allow DOLE to plant bananas; driving leftist guerillas out of the banana zones, and in the process murdering thousands of innocent people, including the relatives of plaintiffs.”
Recently, Chiquita Brand International and its executives agreed to a plea deal with the US Department of Justice after coming forward to admit that it had funded organization accused of killing trade union leaders. Chiquita was able to escape any serious criminal liability by agreeing to pay a $25 million fine.
In the Philippines, where Dole has been granted its own special economic zone, workers are being threatened and intimidated by government military forces. According to union leaders, Dole is participating in efforts by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to intimidate and harass Dole Philippines workers and union leaders of Amado Kadena-KMU. Local military officials have been very vocal that it sees the military’s “job is to protect free enterprises as mandated by the president’s policy of foreign investment and resource development.” Accusing local union leaders of being sympathetic to a long-running communist insurgency, the Philippine military has labeled the democratically-elected union a terrorist threat. According to high ranking Philippines military officials, Dole has been “infiltrated by” the union, which the AFP alleges is a front for the New Peoples’ Army. Recent finding by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial execution has described accusations such as these the cause of the spate in murders of labor leaders and other activists across the Philippines.
While Dole’s revenues have been expanding, Dole’s alleged actions have come at a cost. If the Colombian plaintiffs are successful, Dole will likely face a significant judgment worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In the Philippines, Dole has already withdrawn its request for expanded duty free access for pineapple products covering 30% of total pineapple juice imports into the US, because of concerns that Dole’s Philippine operations may be in violation of freedom of association protections that the preferential trade and develop programs, like the General Systems of Preferences, are designed to promote.
Dole has a great deal of economic and political influence with the national and local authorities where it operates. Unfortunately, Dole has chosen not to act to end the violence and intimidation of local labor leaders by military and paramilitary units.