Banana Workers Are Pushing Hard for Justice After Knowingly Being Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals by Dole Foods and Chiquita

Lawsuits filed by Latin American banana plantation workers have been upheld despite being dismissed by a number of other courts. The workers claim that they were exposed to harmful chemicals while working on the plantations.

The lawsuits, which were filed by hundreds of plantation workers, target major corporations like Chiquita, Dow Chemicals and Dole Foods. The farmers allege that they were exposed to dibromochloropropane (DBCP) on the job and were not given any protection. DBCP is banned in the United States for causing cancer and sterility.

A report from the Louisiana Record details the allegations: 

The plaintiffs allege the vapors and chemicals would become trapped under the canopy of banana leaves and they would become trapped in its fumes, exposing them to the chemical and cutting off their ventilation.

Because of the exposure to DBCP, the banana farmers are claiming that they have suffered from infertility, cancer and problems with their renal systems and sperm.

A case recently dismissed by a Delaware court was revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in an 11-0 decision. This battle is just a small part of a much wider struggle that has been going on since the late 70s.

Most domestic uses of DBCP were banned in 1977, but despite strong warnings about its health impact, Dole continued to use the chemical. Dole even threatened to sue Dow Chemical if it stopped sending shipments of DBCP to its banana plantations in Latin America. In 1983, six of the Occidental plant workers won a $4.9 million judgement against Dow, which paved the way for the EPA to ban all uses of the substance in the United States.

After a Texas court ruled that foreign locations could become part of such lawsuits in 1990, 1,000 Costa Rican plantation workers filed suit against Standard Fruit, which is now Dole. The corporation agreed to pay $20 million, but after legal fees the workers weren't left with much money. Small payments were also ultimately received after a class action lawsuit in 1993 that filed by over 16,000 plantation workers against several fruit and chemical companies, including Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte.

The Nicaraguan Nemagon movement, which sought justice for the impacted workers, began in the early '90s and targeted the fruit and chemical companies. In 2002, after a legal battle led by the attorneys who worked on Erin Brockovich landmark toxicity suit, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court ordered Dow Chemical Co., Shell Chemical Co. and Dole Food Co. to pay nearly $500 million in compensation to 583 Nicaraguan banana workers. Not only did the companies refuse to participate in the trial, Dow called the judgment “unenforceable” because the trial didn't take place in a U.S. court. Dow also pointed at the previous claim of law 364 being unconstitutional. One year later, a Los Angeles judge ruled that the decision couldn't be enforced because the companies weren't legally notified.

In 2009, Fredrik Gertten directed a documentary on the legal fight between Dole and Nicaraguan banana plantation workers called Bananas!

Watch the trailer below:

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.