This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


Honduran banana workers sue multinationals over dangerous pesticide use

Honduran banana workers sue multinationals over dangerous pesticide use
Oliver Balch / Buenos Aires
19 Apr 05

Shell, Dow Chemicals, Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole Food Company are facing
renewed legal action by Honduran banana workers for their alleged use of a
harmful pesticide in the 1970s and 1980s
A new lawsuit, filed on 14 April in a Los Angeles federal court, claims
that chemical manufacturers and fruit companies knowingly used and
distributed the pesticide 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) after it was
banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1979.

The case is being brought by over 600 Honduran banana workers, who claim
that DBCP has resulted in widespread cases of sterility, testicular
atrophy, miscarriages and other serious health complaints.

Several chemical companies manufactured DBCP (known also by its commercial
name Nemagon), including Dow and Shell, for use on food crops. Dole,
Chiquita and Del Monte are among fruit growers to have applied the
pesticide on banana farms in Latin America during the 1970s.

The plaintiffs allege that these banana growers continued to use DBCP
after its US registration was revoked. This demonstrated a "conscious
disregard" for the safety of the plantation workers, the lawsuit says.

Among other charges, the companies are being sued for negligence,
concealing the hazards of the product and conspiracy.

Charges denied

The multinational chemical and fruit companies have repeatedly denied that
they continued to distribute or use DBCP after the 1979 ban, as the
lawsuit claims.

"The allegation that Dow sold the product after it was banned by the EPA
is false," Dow Chemical spokesman Adam Muellerweiss told news agency

Shell, Chiquita and Dole have all declined to comment until they have had
time to assess the specific details of the current lawsuit.

In previous public statements, however, Dole argued that it halted all
purchases of DBCP after the US ban, "including use in foreign countries".
It did so because of "the apparent link between male sterility and
exposure to DBCP".

Yet the California-based food company has repeatedly argued that no
"reliable scientific evidence" exists linking the pesticide to other forms
of illness, such as cancer and birth defects, as workers have claimed.

Del Monte spokesman Bruce Jordan also told Reuters it had not yet been
served with the lawsuit, but he said that the fruit producer has never had
any operations in Honduras.

History of complaints

The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of legal challenges filed by
worker groups in recent years.

In the Philippines, for example, Dole and others were named in a $4
billion DBCP action involving 35,000 individuals. A court of appeal threw
out the case in 2002 on procedural grounds.

Similar legal actions have been raised in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama,
Nicaragua and Guatemala.

The most vociferous campaigns have occurred in Nicaragua where, in October
2000, the government passed a statute facilitating the filing of DBCP
complaints in domestic law courts. Within two years the number of pending
DBCP-related lawsuits had grown to 295, representing a total of 6,544
plaintiffs and damages worth $9.6 million.

The constitutionality of the statute (Law 364) has been consistently
challenged. In a recent interview with the BBC, Dole's executive
vice-president Michael Carter called Nicaragua's judicial system "corrupt"
and argued that the revised statute "effectively prevented people from
defending themselves".

Carter also said: "There is no evidence that indicates that the open field
dispersion of the product has any impact on workers."

Together with fellow multinationals Dow Chemical and Shell, Dole is
appealing an order, made by a Nicaraguan court in December 2002, to pay
$490 million to 600 workers affected by DBCP.

UN involvement

Meanwhile, former banana workers won the right to present their case to
the United Nations Human Rights Committee earlier this month. The
agreement came after more than one thousand DBCP victims staged a
month-long protest outside the offices of Human Rights Ombudsman Omar
Cabezas in Managua.

In 1997, the chemical companies Amvac, Dow, Occidental and Shell agreed to
pay $41.5 million in an out-of court settlement following a joint action
lawsuit brought by workers in Central America and the Philippines.

Other countries where the pesticide was used on fruit fields include the
United States, Israel, Saint Vincent, Burkina Faso and Spain.


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