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RP Siegel headshot

Chiquita Sued For Deceptive Sustainability Claims

Words by RP Siegel

One aspect of our world that has undisputedly changed is the increased transparency and availability of information. This makes it harder for companies and politicians to get away with making false claims.

Last month, Chiquita Brands International received notice of a lawsuit filed by Seattle-based Water and Sanitation Health (WASH) accusing the company of deceptive advertising practices. Specifically, the company claims in their advertising that their "bananas are farmed in an ecologically friendly and sustainable manner.”

This, according to WASH founder Eric John Harrison, “is far from the truth.”

Says Harrison: "Chiquita sells millions of pounds of bananas that are produced in ways that destroy natural ecosystems and contaminate the drinking water of local communities living next to Chiquita's largest Guatemalan supplier. The pesticides and fungicides used on these Chiquita-contracted plantations are toxic, and the aerial application falls on homes, schools and residents." According to the lawsuit, some 7,200 residents are at risk in the Guatemalan communities of Ticanu, Barra Nahualate, Playa Semillero, San Francisco and Madre Vieja.

WASH has previously reached a settlement with Chiquita’s rival Dole in Guatemala in which Dole agreed to provide clean drinking water to seven communities in the vicinity of Ocos.

Chiquita's practices, according to Harrison, were hidden, even to Rainforest Alliance, which monitors activities in the area and has endorsed Chiquita with their green frog logo. This could be due to the use of independent contractor COBIGUA, which sells million so of pounds of bananas to Chiquita annually and even bears the Chiquita logo on its trucks.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that fungicides containing nitrates and heavy metals at 10 times recommended safe levels are sprayed on the plantations, which have no buffer zones separating them from homes, schools or local water supplies. This appears to directly contradict Chiquita’s claim that they sell “bananas that are grown in a manner that is safe to the environment and to local communities.”

A Chiquita spokesperson told Environmental Leader that the company was considering filing a countersuit against Harrison and WASH for “defamation and other torts associated with his incorrect statements.”

Chiquita was one of several companies included in a review of sustainable sourcing commitments called the State of Sustainability Initiatives. The report highlights efforts that Chiquita has taken in conjunction with Rainforest Alliance going back to 1992. Bt 2008, a full 87 percent of Chiquita bananas were Rainforest Alliance certified including those grown on non-Chiquita farms.

Chiquita has been the frequent target of various lawsuits. Last year, a lawsuit blaming the company for thousands of deaths in Colombia by the right-wing paramilitary group AUC was filed in U.S. federal court. The company does not deny paying $1.7 million to the Colombian group over a period of years, for which it paid a $25 million fine for supporting terrorists, though it claims that the money was extorted. The suit was dismissed in July.

The South and Central American banana trade has had a long and sordid history of labor struggles and violence, as chronicled in the novel, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," by Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In the news this week, Chiquita is entertaining takeover bids by the Brazilian orange juice giant Cutrale Group and the Safra Group bank as well as Irish distributor Fyffes.

Image credit: Sérgio Bettencourt: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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