Chiquita and its labor issues
- Summary of Case
The country of Ecuador is the current leading exporter of bananas in the whole world, but a major percent of the workforce are under ages. That implies that over a quarter of the bananas consumed in the United States and United Kingdom are actually produced by underage kids. That would be attributed to the fact that the Chiquita Brands International have failed in the enacting and following up on their labor laws that prevent child labor within the country. The relationship between the government, business, and the society is an intriguing one. In history, organizations that grow to enjoy monopoly in given business activities tend to become overreaching (Steiner & Steiner, 2012). They often use their influence on the government such that even if the society suffers due to their actions, the government simply ignores. A good example of this kind of organization is Chiquita International Brands. At the beginning of the last decade, enjoyed near monopolistic existence in the Caribbean region and had taken the advantage of its position to influence the governments of the countries in which it operated.
In Hondurans, after several failed attempts by the organization to evict an entire village to pave way for its banana plantations, Chiquita made use of the country’s army to forcefully evict the villagers (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The villagers who were turned into squatters became laborers in the same plantations and were still treated inappropriately despite having been rendered homeless. In Costa Rica, an employee died due to exposure to pesticides without protective gear (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The autopsy report showed that the cause of death was internal bleeding and brain damage caused by the toxic pesticides, which had recently been sprayed in the area where the employee was working. Additionally, employees reported that aerial spraying of cancer causing pesticides was carried out using airplanes while workers were in the fields (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998).
In Ecuador, children as young as eight years old work for an average of twelve hours, hauling heavy banana loads under hazardous conditions (Human Rights Watch, 2014). Clearly, Chiquita violated human rights and labor laws in the countries where it operated, but its influence ensured that everyone remained quiet. Investigative reporters who secretly conducted research on its activities were compelled to denounce their reports and apologize despite the fact that their reports were true (Citinv.it, 2001).
b) What Effect on the Economy would Ethical Issue have
Trade has consistently proved to be a critical economic driver. As a result, individuals, groups, and countries have invested extensively to improve their economic wellbeing. However, like any other human engagement, there are numerous unscrupulous entities dealing in various trading activities. These entities often operate in low-income countries where they build massive influence over the concerned authorities and proceed to commit horrendous atrocities against their laborers without facing any punitive measures (Steiner & Steiner, 2012). Chiquita Brands International, a leading banana exporter in the Americas, is one such organization. It is notorious for its poor treatment of workers in the Caribbean region. This aim of this paper is to examine the various pieces of literature that have focused on Chiquita’s maltreatment of workers in a bid to get a clear picture of the activities it carries out behind the scenes.
In a story dubbed “Bananas, Bulldozers and Bullets - Chiquita Banana”, authored by McWhirter and Gallagher and published in The Third World Traveller in the fall of 1998, the duo argued that the condition of the workers in Chiquita-owned or controlled banana plantations was deplorable (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). In Honduras for example, a village known as Tacamiche consisting of over 600 occupants was literally wiped off the map by the country’s own military under the influence of Chiquita (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The former villagers became squatters and were compelled by circumstances to become laborers in the same plantations. To make matters worse, the wages they were paid for their toil in the banana plantations were meager and they continued to dwindle despite the rising costs of living (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). In Costa Rica where Chiquita operates several banana plantations, it paid workers as low as $27 per week around the year 1998, yet they were required to work for up to 16 hours per day (Citinv.it, 2001).
Apart from the meager earnings and long working hours, the spraying of dangerous pesticides using aircraft while workers are in the fields is a common practice in Chiquita-owned plantations (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The company and its subsidiaries can carry out these aerial sprays up to 40 times per year, but they do not bother to inform their workers to leave the fields before the exercise. Sadly, the chemicals used in these aerial sprays are known to cause cancer among humans (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The workers are left with no option, but to cover themselves with their shirts whenever the planes come.
Manually applied pesticides also pose untold health dangers to Chiquita workers. None of the workers is supplied with protective gear, yet they are required to apply toxic pesticides in the plantations. Additionally, workers are expected to work in newly sprayed plantations without any protective gear. In a case cited by the McWhirter and Gallagher reports, a worker died in a Chiquita plantation in Costa Rica. The individual had been working in newly spayed area without protective gear from around five in the morning until around seven when he collapsed and died within a period of two hours (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998). The autopsy showed that the cause of death was internal bleeding and brain damage instigated by the toxic effects of the pesticide terbufos (Gallagher & McWhirter, 1998).
Besides these bizarre occurrences, Chiquita allows children, as young as eight years old, to work in its plantations (Human Rights Watch, 2009). In Ecuador, children start working in banana plantations between age eight and thirteen years. Despite their tender age, they work for twelve hours under hazardous conditions that pose serious dangers to their health and overall wellbeing. For instance, they are forced to contend with the dangers of pesticides, they lack rest rooms or portable water, and to cap it all, they undergo sexual harassment in the plantations (Human Rights Watch, 2009).
An important point to note is that with the gradual opening of such places to world scrutiny, organizations such as Chiquita are compelled to slowly adjust to international requirements. Although the organization may still be engaging in child labor, human rights violation, and other bizarre activities, the extent of involvement in these activities cannot equal what was reported by McWhirter and Gallagher in 1998.
Its position as a market leader in banana exports came under threat in the 1990s. The European Union, its largest and most lucrative market, moved to restrict banana imports from the Americas almost around the same time when the reports by McWhirter and Gallagher were published. Although the EU may cite other reasons for its action, it has become common knowledge in the current business world any organization that does not enjoy a cordial relationship with the society performs poorly in the marketplace. Chiquita fought viciously to stop the restriction but eventually failed since the EU was determined to go ahead with its plans.
The results of the move by the EU were massive losses by Chiquita. Although information is scanty, arguably, the losses suffered by the organization trickled down to the poor workers in the plantations. This could be reason why the workers claimed that their earnings were meager and they kept dwindling (McWhirter & Gallagher, 1998). Thus, clearly, Chiquita’s actions ended up costing it millions of dollars, forcing it to share the misfortune with its already suffering workers.
Citinv.it. (2001). Chiquita is ignoring its responsibilities towards banana workers in Latin. Retrieved on 3rd July 2014; from http://www.citinv.it/associazioni/CNMS/archivio/strategie/manifestazchiq.html
Gallagher, M., & McWhirter, C. (1998). Bananas, Bulldozers and Bullets - Chiquita.Third World Traveler. Retrieved on 3rd July 2014; from http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Transnational_corps/BananasBullets_Chiquita.html
Human Rights Watch (2009). Child Labor and Bananas from Ecuador. Retrieved on 3rd July 2014; from http://www.oocities.org/busa2100/ecuadbananaethics.htm
Steiner, J., & Steiner, G. (2012). Selected materials from Business, government, and society : a managerial perspective : text and cases, thirteenth edition (1st ed.). [United States]: McGraw-Hill Create.