Chiquita SECRETS Revealed
MIKE GALLAGHER & CAMERON McWHIRTER
Cincinnati Enquirer 3-May-1998
In response to revelations about Chiquita Brands International’s overseas business practices in Sunday’s Enquirer, a prominent Catholic bishop has called on Catholic institutions not to accept donations from Carl H. Lindner Jr. or Chiquita.
Chiquita, meanwhile, issued a statement Sunday defending itself “as a good corporate citizen notwithstanding the unfair and inaccurate assertions of the Enquirer.”
But Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an auxiliary bishop of Detroit, said the Enquirer’s findings reflect what he saw firsthand on Chiquita farms he visited in Honduras last year. A member of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Social Justice Committee, Bishop Gumbleton is an internationally known spokesman and investigator for the Catholic Church on human rights and social justice issues. The Catholic Conference is the social policy arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
On Sunday, Bishop Gumbleton called for Catholic leaders to reject donations from Chiquita and Mr. Lindner, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. He said such gifts involved “blood money earned off the backs of the poor peasants of Central America.”
The bishop made his comments after reading the Sunday Chiquita stories on the Enquirer Web site.
In the 18-page special section Sunday, the Enquirer described the findings of a yearlong investigation into the Cincinnati-based banana giant. Among those findings:
Chiquita secretly controls dozens of supposedly independent banana companies in Latin America. It uses elaborate business structures to hide its control, avoiding restrictions on land ownership and national security laws. The structures also are aimed at limiting unions on the farms.
Chiquita’s subsidiaries engage in pesticide practices that endanger the health of banana workers and nearby residents, despite an agreement with an environmental group to adhere to certain safety standards. Those practices include aerial pesticide spraying while workers are still in the fields.
Security guards of Chiquita subsidiaries and their joint-venture partners have used brute force to enforce their authority on plantations. The violence by these guards has resulted in the death and wounding of unarmed peasants, including children.
Chiquita is “an evil institution for exploiting the poor,” Bishop Gumbleton said. “I saw (people) living in a dismal situation. What I would ask the Catholic leaders of Cincinnati and elsewhere is ‘How can you take money from a corporation or . . . (a chairman) of a corporation who is doing that kind of thing to perfectly good and totally innocent people and depriving them of a chance to get a decent livelihood?’ ”
In October, Mr. Lindner and his family donated $1.5 million to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to provide computers for inner-city Catholic schools.
Efforts to reach Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk and archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco were unsuccessful Sunday.
Telephone calls to Mr. Lindner and Steven Warshaw, president and chief operating officer of Chiquita Brands International Inc., were not returned. Robert Olson, Chiquita’s general counsel, spoke with an Enquirer reporter but would not say whether the company would issue a statement in response to Bishop Gumbleton’s comments.
Bishop Gumbleton said the 2,000-mile distance that separates Chiquita’s banana farms and its Cincinnati headquarters is no excuse for allowing the problems in Latin America to continue. “It doesn’t take a big effort for Carl Lindner to go down there and just find out what’s going on at his plantations.
“I don’t believe that a person like Carl Lindner is the only corporate leader in this country doing this kind of thing,” he said. “But the evidence uncovered by (the Enquirer), and what I have personally observed, makes it clear that he and his company must make changes to protect the very lives of the people who made them so wealthy.”
Chiquita Brands statement
On Sunday, May 3, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a sensational and highly inaccurate story impugning the reputation and business practices of Chiquita Brands International. Chiquita is known globally as a leading international producer of wholesome and healthy foods and as a good corporate citizen – investing in local communities, building schools and improving the quality of life for tens of thousands. We are proud of the success we have had in providing benefits and wages in Latin America that far exceed those available from other jobs and protecting the environment in a manner that has earned praise from the most prominent independent environmental organizations.
Chiquita is proud of its work and denies the false implications of the Enquirer’s article.
The information contained in the Enquirer’s story was selectively edited, incomplete and presented out of context and portrays a false and highly inaccurate image of Chiquita. Chiquita and other independent sources made extraordinary efforts to provide facts and documents which demonstrate the true record. Unfortunately, the Enquirer ignored the hundreds of pages of documents detailing the facts regarding Chiquita’s sound business practices. Instead, the Enquirer has affiliated itself and worked in concert with persons having financial, political and economic motives to damage Chiquita.
Chiquita adheres to the highest standards of product quality and social responsibility, applying world-class standards regarding associate relations, product quality and environmental controls. Chiquita will continue to meet its obligations as a good corporate citizen notwithstanding the unfair and inaccurate assertions of the Enquirer.
On the Web The complete text of the Enquirer’s investigation into Chiquita Brands International Inc. can be accessed at the Enquirer’s Web site: enquirer.com – chiquita (Not available as of 10jul98)