Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

This Shit is Bananas - B-A-N-A-N-A-S! Human Rights Issues on Banana Plantations By Jacqueline Lumley

Pic © Jan Sochor
The banana plantations in South America, specifically located in Ecuador, such as Chiquita and Dole abuses their workers rights, including but not limited to anti-union campaigns, poor working conditions, child labor and low and unfair wages. Thus, the exploitation of workers is staggering. Many of the issues occurring on these plantations today have to do with the use of chemical substances that are being sprayed onto the plants by workers who are unaware of the safety protocols that should take place, and worse still, the effects these dangerous chemicals pose to their health.

The United Fruit Company, later known as Chiquita was an American business created in 1899 for the purpose of building railways as well as cultivating bananas (Chomsky,1996). The company started out very small in Limon, Costa Rica; a province located in the Atlantic-Coast, and grew to become one of the largest banana companies in the world. Chiquita’s banana farms are well spread over both Central and South America and their website states that “Chiquita banana farms are most concentrated in fertile soil regions of Central America; from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador” (Chiquitabananas, 2014). 

Chiquita Banana To Face Colombia Torture Claim 
Pic © Dawn Huczek
Much like Chiquita, Dole is a company that sells bananas world wide. They were founded in 1851 in Hawaii and were previously known as the Standard Fruit Company. This company supplies frozen, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables and is said to be the largest producer of fresh quality fruits and vegetables in the world (Dole.com, 2014). Both of these companies own many banana farms where they grow and cultivate bananas which they export to all corners of the world. Like any industry, there are many steps in the production of bananas that require a lot of workers. Sadly, these workers are not treated as well as they should be.

Workers and Their Rights

Bringing an End to Banana Republics and their Banana Oil
Pic © The Cutting Edge
There are very few banana plantations owned by these companies that are unionized. The majority of the workers are not legally allowed to form unions. Companies do this so that they have more power over their workers. The reason why workers form unions is to make changes in issues such as pay and labour wages, the benefits they receive, the hours they work and the labour conditions they must endure. It is understandable why big companies to not allow workers to form unions because without a union, workers are helpless to make changes in the company. This then leaves the company with more power. 

Chiquita Brands International, USA
Pic © Banana Link
Out of the six thousand banana plantations in Ecuador there are only seven plantations that have been unionized (Transnationale.org, 2007). This is mainly due to the fact that when workers on these plantations attempt to get together to form unions they are shut down by the company because of its illegality and are usually fired. Human Rights Watch argues that Ecuadorian banana plantation workers are “…illegally fired for union activity have no right to reinstatement” (Hwr.org, 2002). These workers are often left with only two choices, comply or run the risk of losing their jobs. In a report provided by Human Rights Watch, the Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch stated; “Banana-exporting companies may tell you they’re not responsible for labour abuses. But they have financial power and could use it to ensure respect for workers’ rights. They just don’t” (hwr.org, 2002).

Rights of Employees
Pic © Chiquita
On banana plantations in Ecuador, workers usually work 13 hour days starting at approximately 5am and finishing their days at 6pm (Kuzila, 2007). During their day the workers only take one break that will last a maximum of half an hour. The reason as to why these workers take such short lunch breaks is because they cannot afford to take any longer due to their salary being so low (Kuzila, 2007). On average, a worker on a banana plantation in Ecuador was paid $5.44 a day American in 2002 which was forty-one cents less than the countries minimum wage at the time (Corpwatch.org, 2002). Although the cost of living in Ecuador is quite low, this is hardly enough to provide for one person, never mind a whole family.

The banana industry has totally disrupted indigenous
communities on Caribbean costal zones.
Pic © Jan Sochor
This could be the reason as to why so many children begin to work at such young ages on banana plantations. A report conducted by the Human Rights Watch stated that “out of 45 children who they spoke to, 41 of them started working on the plantations between the ages of eight and thirteen, most starting at age 10 or 11” (hwr.org, 2002).  Just to be clear, the jobs that these children were undertaking were in no way different from the labour that the adults on the plantations were involved in; the only difference between the two was their pay. The children worked the same hours in the same conditions, but were paid less for their work.

I don't eat Bananas and either should you!
Pic © AFP
Workers on plantations usually work with some form of sharp tool such as a large knife or machete. It is common knowledge that an adult is physically stronger than a child so therefore an adult working with a machete on the plantations is not seen as such a big deal. Imagine the possibilities of what could happen when a child encounters one? Keep in mind that all of the workers are working without any form of insurance so if something were to happen to them it is up them to deal with not the company.

Pesticides and Workers

A child protests aerial spraying in Davao.
Photo ©  Vera Files
On both Dole and Chiquita’s banana plantations one can find many different forms of chemicals substances that are sprayed on their crops for various reasons. Some are sprayed to kill of pesticides; others are sprayed to help the bananas grow. Although these chemicals serve different purposes on the plantations, they all have one thing in common, their negative effects on workers’ health. The pesticides used on these plantations include herbicides which are used to destroy other plants that grow around the banana plants and pestacides which are sprayed to kill the small worms called nematodes that attempt to eat away the roots of the trees (Mindfully.org, 1998). Some of the pesticides are sprayed by planes and others are sprayed directly on the plants and ground by the workers.

No Justice for Nicaraguan Banana Workers
Photo © Spero news
Many of these chemicals are extremely toxic to inhale within the first 2 days of the spraying, but nevertheless the workers are still required to work on the plantations during that time (Mindfully.org, 1998).  Many of the plantations do not warn the workers on the plantations that a pesticide spraying is about to occur so the workers cannot prevent being exposed to these chemicals. The workers are simply expected to work through the smell and deal with the consequences on their own at a later time. The pesticides sprayed have many affects on the workers health, but the main affects include sterility, birth defects, respiratory, skin and kidney diseases, allergies and miscarriages (BananasTheMovie.com, 2009).

You’ll Never Want To Eat Another Banana Again Unless It’s Organic.
Photo © Healthy Body Now.net
There have been a few issues in the news in the past 10 years addressing these affects on the workers. The most common ones though usually have to do with DBCP, also known as dibromochloropropane, which is a pesticide that was commonly used during the 1970s. DBCP has been scientifically linked to sperm damage and due to this fact many men are attempting to sue Dole (BananasTheMovie.com, 2009). This is an extremely difficult subject to handle and many of these cases have not come to a final agreement and are still being evaluated. The complications usually occur not with the proof of sterility but due to the fact that it is technically not Dole providing the DBCP but Dow Chemicals, a pesticide company. 

Although the above information was based upon reports in Ecuador please note that this is not the only place that it is present. Many of the issues covered are present on the majority of banana plantations in both Central and South America. Sadly, these abuses towards workers on banana plantations rights have still not been entirely eradicated but there are organizations out there trying to educate the world on these issues like Bananas!* for example. They are a company that has produced a film based on the men who worked on these plantations and who have become sterile due to the pesticides. These men are now bringing these issues to court in the United States in hopes for some form of compensation (BananasTheMovie.com, 2009). When watching this film one learns a lot about how the workers on the plantations are treated and the atmosphere in which they work in. The purpose of this film is to educate the public on the abuses taken by workers on banana plantations. At this point in time, one can only hope that in the near future these companies will realize that the human cost far outweighs the bottom profit line.


Bananas!* (2009), Pesticide Lawsuits – a DBCP overview. Bannanas The Movie.com.

Breden Riley (2010), Poisoned Nicaraguan Workers Seek U.S. Justice and Get Nothing But Banana Oil. [Retrieved 4 October 2014 from http://www.thecuttingedgenews.com/index.php?article=21583&pageid=&pagename=].

Chomsky, Aviva. (1996), West Indian Workers and The United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 1870-1940, Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press.

Dole Food Company, Inc. (2014), About Us. Dole.com.

Dosal, Paul J. (1993), Doing business with the dictators: a political history of United Fruit in Guatemala, 1899-1944, Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books.

Gallagher, Mike and McWhirter, Cameron.  (1998), Life on a banana plantation;Growing Chiquita bananas: pesticides and hard work. Mindfully.org.

Grossman, Lawrence S. (1998), The political ecology of bananas contract farming, peasants, and agrarian change in the eastern Caribbean. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Human Rights Watch (2002), Ecuador: Widespread Labor Abuse on Banana Plantations | Human Rights Watch.

Jessen, Michael . (2001), USA: Going Bananas. CorpWatch.org.

Kuzila, Caitlyn. (2007), Banana Plantation Employees. Jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu.

Nomogaia, Kendyl Salcito (2006), Reports: HRIRC - Human Rights Impact Resource Centre.

COHA. (2010). Peeling Back the Truth on Guatemalan Bananas. Council On Hemispheric Affairs.org.

Sochor, Jan.  (2007), Banana Republic. JanSochor.com.

Transnationale.org. (nd), Companies from Ecuador: Economy, Tax Incentives & Labor Conditions. Transnationale.org.

Whitten, David O. and Bessie E. Whitten. (2006), The United Fruit Company: The birth of big business in the United States, 1860-1914 commercial, extractive, and industrial enterprise. Westport, Connicut London: Praeger.

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