By Brian Campbell, Director of Policy and Legal Programs, International Labor Rights Forum
According to many stock market analysts, Dole Food Company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), which is scheduled to go on sale on the New York Stock Exchange this Friday, will be a test whether investor confidence has improved and the economy is on the rise once again. For Dole Foods, the IPO is an effort to find investors to bail the company out from under $2 billion in debt. So, the question on many peoples’ mind this week: Should I invest my money with Dole Foods, and what will I get if I do?
So, for the next few days, we here at the Labor is Not a Commodity Blog and International Labor Rights Forum will invite you into Dole’s global production system and provide you an on-the-ground account of what you will be purchasing with each Dole share. That way, you can better understand the impact you will have as part owner of Dole’s global empire and see how your potential future company controls and influences the lives of those who produce Dole’s fresh and packaged produce. There is no better place to start than with an inside view from those who make up the Dole family, its global workforce.
When Dole’s workers try to stand up for themselves through organizing in order to negotiate meaningful wages and better working conditions, Dole often confronts them with strong-arm tactics and brings its political and economic weight down on the workers. When Dole workers in Colombia sought to organize a union, Dole orchestrated the formation of a separate, “yellow” (company-friendly) union, to deny workers the right to bargain with their independent union. Family members of dozens of Dole’s Colombian banana workers who were killed by right-wing paramilitary groups, have brought a lawsuit against Dole for allegedly helping to orchestrate the murders. Many of those killed had unresolved labor disputes against Dole.
In the Philippines, where Dole workers have elected an independent union to represent them, Dole has been supporting an organization of workers, known as UR-Dole, which was established for the express purpose of conducting a daily campaign to undermine the elected leaders from the independent union representing of Dole’s workforce. If that isn’t enough, Dole workers in the Philippines also face constant harassment by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has been dispatched by the Philippine government to “protect” Dole’s operations from insurgents, but has been focusing on undermining public support for the union through anti-union education programs. Once again, Dole’s activities came with a cost, as the company had to withdraw its application for duty waivers to the US Trade Representative for its pineapples from the Philippines because of concerns of labor abuses.
In Costa Rica, where Dole has invested heavily in pineapple and banana operations, Dole-supported anti-union “schools” (solidarist organizations) and company favored worker committees (similar to above point) have severely restricted rights for workers to freely organize and join democratic unions. No banana or pineapple supplier plantation in Costa Rica has had a collective bargaining agreement with a union for the last two decades, despite immense international pressure to urge Dole to support union rights. Dole has divested from surrounding Central American countries with stronger labor unions.
Will Dole treat its shareholders any better than it treats its workers? At the outset, it doesn’t appear very favorable. Dole’s IPO is structured like its labor relations. Any investor who wants to be an active participant in Dole’s future need not apply. By saving more than a majority stake in the company for himself, David Murdock has made it clear that he not interested in your opinions; only in your money. Take it from many of Dole’s workers, while Dole may promise a brighter future for its stakeholders, it may just be a Faustian bargain.