HONDURAS€ Nothing remains of Tacamiche but a few concrete foundations. No
one lives here any more but lizards and crows. The churches are gone. The
homes of the banana workers are gone. Even the streets are overgrown with
After six decades as a community among Chiquita’s banana fields in
northeastern Honduras, the village was plowed under in February 1996 by
about 500 Honduran soldiers. Former residents have not forgotten their
village, nor have they forgiven Chiquita and its subsidiary for the fact
that soldiers with bayonets and bulldozers forcibly evicted more than 600
people before wiping
Tacamiche off the map.
An April 12, 1989, memorandum by Manuel Rodriguez, a Chiquita lawyer,
detailed a plan to close Honduran farms in order to reduce labor costs.
Under a section titled “Labor Issues,” Mr. Rodriguez states: “Only feasible
grounds for termination of employees is ‘liquidation, or permanent closing
of company or establishment....’ Review with local (Honduran) counsel the
procedure to effectuate terminations; our recommendation is to terminate all
the workers at
affected farms, rather than follow procedures of labor contract and/or
(Honduran) Labor Code.”
Chiquita tried to enforce its court eviction of the village several times,
but villagers refused to leave. The military came into the village in
February 1996 with tear gas, bulldozers and rifles. In a statement issued
through its attorneys, Chiquita stated that the February eviction “took
place peacefully and no one was hurt.” Tacamiche villagers dispute that
claim. Photographs of the event show soldiers with assault rifles forcibly
removing women and children as bulldozers destroy the village.
In Honduras, gun-toting Chiquita plantation guards shoot at banana workers
and plantation residents without cause. Even where this violence is not
specifically anti-union in target, it creates an atmosphere in which workers
reasonably fear that joining a union or participating in a strike might
costs them their lives.
Without warning, in the early morning hours of August 16, 1996, plantation
guards driving a security truck opened fire on three men as they returned
home from visiting a nearby village. One was was killed, another wounded and
the third escaped into the forest. One of the guns used was an AK-47 assault
rifle, a weapon that under Honduran law may be used only by military
LOW PAY, ILLEGAL PRACTICES
Chiquita television advertisements in the US show smiling, tanned workers
strolling through verdant, flowering jungles drenched in sunshine. No one
ever has made a commercial about Barrio Brooklyn, a squatter’s camp down the
road from the seven large plantations of Chiquita subsidiary Compania
Bananera Atlantica Ltda. (COBAL) at San Alberto in east-central Costa Rica.
In squalid camps and towns among the sweltering flatlands of banana
territory, workers interviewed by the Enquirer said that in recent years
working to produce Chiquita bananas has meant less pay, fewer benefits, less
union representation, unenforced employment protections and little job
An Enquirer investigation into Chiquita’s business practices found that in
the late 1980s and early 1990s, officials at the company’s Cincinnati
headquarters formulated policies that diminished union influence on farms
controlled by Chiquita and created plans to limit workers’ wages and
benefits. These business practices include:
** Using computerized hiring logs in Honduras that alert Chiquita-controlled
farms when to rotate some workers at supposedly independent companies before
they can receive state-mandated salary and health benefits. The companies
are all, in fact, controlled by Chiquita. The rotations also make union
** Financing the Solidarismo Movement in Costa Rica. The movement, partially
funded by Chiquita and other multinational companies, that supplants unions,
takes management on its board,will not provide legal representation to
protect dismissed workers and does not authorize
workers to strike.
CHIQUITA AND PESTICIDES
In the early 1990s, almost 100 square miles of Costa Rican grazing land and
forests in the northeastern section of the country were bought by banana
companies like Chiquita and turned into banana fields. According to Costa
Rican government statistics, 70,740 acres were in banana production
nationwide in 1990. By 1995, that number had jumped to 131,117.5 acres, an
increase of more than 85 percent. The huge increase meant the loss of
thousands of acres of cattle farms and more than 13 square miles of primary
The increase in banana plantations led to a dramatic rise in pesticide use
in an area permeated by rivers and creeks that flow into the Caribbean. The
new plantations are located near many sensitive forest preserves and
conservation areas. Environmentalists are concerned about pollution from
pesticides causing fish kills and other environmental problems.
Black Sigatoka is a disease that plagues most areas where Chiquita bananas
are produced. The airborne fungus eats away at banana leaves, turning them
black. The disease shrinks the size of the fruit and makes it ripen too
quickly to be shipped to market. Eventually, the disease kills the plant.
The ecosytem of a banana plantation is extremely wet and hot. The soil is
very loose, helping the banana plants grow but also making it easy for
pesticides to spread throughout the system. It often rains in these areas,
flushing pesticides into the ground and water table. The banana industry’s
answer to this dissipation has been to apply pesticides frequently.
Chiquita’s use of pesticides degrades and destroys rainforests and poisons
workers, sometimes fatally. Chiquita executives have found that it is far
cheaper to pay willing “environmental” organizations to apply their stamp of
approval than to pay for cleaning up the problem. Chiquita’s environmental
cover comes chiefly from its participation in the “Better Banana” program.
Chiquita’s primary partner in greenwashing is the Rainforest Alliance but
the company also paid Conservation International for its services on behalf
of the company image. In a telephone interview with Campaign for Labor
Rights, Tim Hermach, founder and director of the Native Forest Council,
described Conservation International as a major player in the greenwashing-
for-hire business and described the Rainforest Alliance as a bit player.
The Rainforest Alliance stated that, while the alliance receives no
donations from Chiquita, it does charge a “fee” for certification, paid to
its Costa Rican partner, Fundacion Ambio, the group that performs
inspections on Chiquita farms. This fiscal year, about 25 percent of
Fundacion Ambio’s $312,000 budget comes from Chiquita fee payments. No
certified plantation ever has had
its certification revoked for violations. Violations are usually not written
up and are not made public.
Chiquita’s environmental partner, the Rainforest Alliance, claims that
Chiquita’s “Better Banana” certified farms apply only “products that are
registered for use in the US, Canada and Europe.” But the Enquirer found
that Chiquita systematically uses chemical products that are not registered
for use in the US, Canada or one or more countries of the European Union.
In 1996, Chiquita paid the Washington-based Conservation International to
send a team to its certified farms in Costa Rica and Panama. Conservation
International has declared Chiquita’s environmental efforts “an innovative
system that looks for environmental improvements in the effects of
monocultures (single-crop farms), serves as a guide for the establishment of
environmental measures, and promotes gradual changes in land use practices.
This program should be continued and supported for its goals.”
After a discussion with the Cincinnati Enquirer, James Nations, a vice
president of Conservation International called Magnes Welsh, Chiquita’s
director of investor relations,. According to a Nov. 13 tape-recorded voice
mail-message provided to the Enquirer, he told Ms. Welsh that “I gave (the
reporter) a very positive story.”
“The one thing that (the Enquirer) asked me that I hedged on was how much
did Chiquita pay you, CI, to do this study. I said I’ll have to check, even
though I actually know. Now, I want to know from you, and also I’m going to
ask people here, Pete and Karen (CI staffers), what they think about this
idea of actually releasing that information. Because I don’t feel that it’s
really any of his (the reporter’s) business. So let me know what you think
WORKERS SPRAYED IN THE FIELDS
The Enquirer found that, in clear violation of industry safety standards,
Chiquita subsidiaries spray toxic cocktails of pesticides on their
plantations without removing workers first. These aerial sprayings can take
place more than 40 times a year.
For aerial spraying, the company uses the fungicides propiconazole, benomyl,
mancozeb, zoxystrobin, thiophanate-methyl, tridemorph and bitertanol.
Propiconazole and benomyl have both been found by the EPA to be possibly
cancer-causing for humans. Mancozeb, azoxystrobin, thiophanate-methyl and
tridemorph are considered hazards to fish. Bitertanol is not allowed for use
on farms in the US, while azoxystrobin and tridemorph are banned in Canada.
For workers, the unannounced aerial spraying is a constant fear. “They never
tell us about the aerial spraying. We just see it coming and boom, it’s
here,” Luis Perez Jimenez, 31, a leaf cutter on a Chiquita plantation in
Costa Rica, said through a translator. Small crop dusters will fly low over
the banana trees and emit clouds of pesticides that settle over the tall,
leafy plants. They also settle on workers, nearby villagers, animals, and
open water. As two Enquirer reporters witnessed, on recently sprayed farms
the air is heavy with a stifling chemical stench. Breathing is difficult and
the pesticide residue covers everything.
DEATH ON THE FARMS
On November 13, 1997, an 18-year-old worker on a Chiquita banana plantation
in Costa Rica had been working since 5 a.m. At about 7:30 a.m., he was found
writhing on the ground, choking and vomiting a white substance. He was dead
by 9:17 a.m.
One of the co-workers who brought his body to the medical clinic stated: “He
was working in an area… that had been sprayed with the agrochemical Counter
(the brand name for the pesticide terbufos, an organophosphate) three days
ago… and he wasn’t using any protective gear like gloves and mask ….”
The autopsy report determined that Mr. Valerin died from intoxication from
organophosphates, which caused internal bleeding and brain damage.
On a nearby plantation, Enquirer reporters saw a work team applying
terbufos, classified as extremely hazardous to humans by the World Health
Organization. According to EPA guidelines, once the pesticide is put on the
ground, no one should be allowed in the area for at least 24 hours unless
wearing protective clothing and a respirator.
But with the air thick with the heavy smell of pesticides, the Enquirer team
observed children from the nearby village playing in the area amid open bags
of terbufos and plants just treated with the pesticide. No warning signs
were posted and no workers tried to stop the children from playing in the
area or passing through.
SMOKESTACK EMITS TOXINS
A Chiquita subsidiary in Puerto Barrios, Costa Rica is exposing more than
500 men, women and children to a toxic chemical that the company knows is
spewing from its factory smokestack in high quantities, internal company
The plant manufactures plastic bags impregnated with a pesticide called
chlorpyrifos. The bags are used to cover bananas ripening on plants to
protect them from insects. Community leaders and neighbors in Barrio Paris
have complained to the national health ministry that fumes have caused
chronic respiratory problems, blistered skin and other serious ailments.
Chlorpyrifos as a highly-toxic pesticide that is dangerous to humans if
inhaled or if it comes into contact with skin for a protracted period of
time. Chlorpyrifos can cause delayed nerve damage, multiple sclerosis, loss
of use of limbs, lung congestion, paralysis, convulsions, dizziness, mental
disorders, blurred vision, chest pain, loss of reflexes and death.
Residents of Barrio Paris are too poor to leave their homes. A children’s
playground is located directly behind the plant. “Look at this playground
right here by the plant.
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