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Elizabeth Hartline Green

Dole, Dow & Pesticides That Can Make You Sterile

The 1970s were an amazing decade. We got out of Vietnam, actually desegregated schools, and found out about Led Zeppelin. It was also in the 1970s that many corporations decided that it would be okay to dump millions of tons of pesticides onto plants in order to maximize profit; most continue to do so.

This has happened mostly in the third world, of course; since the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 pesticides had gone out of vogue in the U.S. But remember how much of the produce we eat in the States was grown in countries where these pesticides are still used, and maybe this is a domestic issue after all. Particularly egregious offenders are, to name a few, Chiquita, Coke, and our main topic of conversation today, Dole Food Company.

bananas_pajamas.gifIt’s hard to believe that the deeds of Dole can be more nefarious than their orchestrating of the hostile takeover of another country (i.e., Hawaii in 1893), but indeed they can! Dole is currently being brought to trial for knowingly exposing farm workers in Nicaragua to dangerous levels of the pesticide dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, which is known to cause many health problems (including sterility and cancer). According to the LA Times, it seems that Dole has known that DBCP is hazardous to humans since the 1950s, and at least since 1979 (when use of the pesticide was banned in the United States), but continued to use it (in ways that are not prescribed for this pesticide) on banana plantations around the world without providing workers any protective gear or giving any notification of the dangers. Thus far, suits have been brought against Dole in other countries, but none have gone before a jury in the United States.

On the chopping block with Dole is Dow Chemical, which produces DBCP. Dow has had so many lawsuits brought against it that a comprehensive summary is almost impossible. Here’s the short list of what Dow has been sued for:
* Producing the deadly Agent Orange;
* contaminated dump sites in New York;
* water and land contamination in Texas, Michigan, and Colorado, to name a few;
* dangerous silicone used for breast implants;
* asbestos in West Virginia;
* an explosion at a Dow-owned plant in 1984 India that killed thousands, and disabled thousands more.

Despite Dow’s sordid record, Dole still seems to take the cake for malfeasance in the Nicaragua case. The LA Times claims that Dole officials have tried to convince Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to change the country’s court system in order to impede the progress of lawsuits, in exchange for bringing more work to Nicaragua. Now let’s all take that in for a moment. A national newspaper has enough evidence to state with confidence that a multinational corporation has actively attempted to bribe the sovereign leader of another country—does this concern anyone but me? It’s one thing to read about these kind of things from John Perkins, but quite another to read them stated in such a blasé manner in the LA Times.

Even beyond that, though, lies a simpler question: is it entirely safe for the American public to be consuming bananas sprayed with pesticides so harmful that they cause sterility in workers? The declining percentage of males born seems to be one indicator that this could go beyond those working on farms and hit all of us very close to home.

There is hope, though. As wicked as all of this may sound, we are making tentative but sure steps towards justice. It is extremely rare for U.S. corporations go on trial in the states for misdeeds committed in other countries—mostly the cases just get settled out of court or dealt with in overseas. It just so happens, though, that another corporation is on trial for its wrongdoings abroad. The Drummond Company, a coal company based in Alabama, has been charged with ordering the murders of union leaders in Colombia. There’s no telling whether these cases are harbingers of a new system of corporate accountability, but the fact that American companies are now being brought to justice in American courts is most assuredly a landmark. Let’s hope that bananas and coal will become a watershed for global standards of corporate responsibility.

Elizabeth Hartline Green: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:27 AM, Jul 23, 2007 in Civil Justice | Environmental Justice
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