Fresh Del Monte Produce, a separate entity from Del Monte Foods, is 52% owned by the IAT Group, property of the Jordanian/Palestinian Abu-Ghazalleh family. They are the world's leading vertically integrated producers, marketers and distributors of fresh fruit and vegetables. The company operates banana farms in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Brazil, Cameroon and the Philippines, and purchases bananas from independent growers in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and the Philippines. The acquisition of Costa Rican group Caribana in 2008 substantially increased their banana and pineapple production in Latin America. Since the 1990s, the company has been the leading supplier of fresh pineapples in the world. The company is also the world's third largest marketer of bananas: in 2016, the company invested in a $20.8 million expansion in Central America and Brazil.
Together with Dole, Del Monte has been a major supporter of the 'Solidarista' movement in Costa Rica - a form of worker-management association that has threatened the existence of independent trade unions. These associations, which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) does not regard as independent workers' organisations, have been used to conduct a campaign of psychological warfare against workers who choose to join independent unions.
Guatemala was described by an ITUC report in 2008 as the “second most dangerous country in which to be a trade unionist”. The area where Del Monte owns plantations had become a theatre for a number of killings of trade unionists. In September 2007, the murder of Marco Tulio Ramirez, a leader of the Del Monte banana workers' union SITRABI, sparked international protests. In 2010 and 2011, several other members and leaders of the union were killed.
It took over six years of a tortuous and hard fought legal battle, but in September 2014, the United States agreed to take Guatemala to international arbitration for violating workers´ rights under the DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement).
Race to the bottom
Del Monte is thought to have played a significant role in fuelling the so-called ‘race to the bottom’. In 1999, the company implemented the first of a wave of mass redundancies in its Costa Rican plantations, rehiring only those workers prepared to accept cuts in wages and benefits. Then, in 2002, it signed an exclusive supply contract with Asda/WalMart, one of the main instigators of the ongoing ‘banana price wars’ in the UK, enabling the retailer to make major price cuts. Relocation of some of its production in Guatemala to the non-union plantations in the Pacific South tends to confirm the company's quest to cut costs by avoiding relations with trade unions.
Del Monte was represented at the launch of the World Banana Forum in 2009, although the company has not yet become an active participant in the Working Groups.
Quick Scan: Del Monte's and Dole's Policy on Selected Critical Issues in the Canned Pineapple Supply Chain, SOMO, Amsterdam, April 2005
Solidarismo or union-busting Costa Rica style leaflet (War on Want/Banana Link 2003)
US LEAP (US Labor Education in the Americas Project)
Photos: Del Monte packing plant at Hacienda Ojo de Agua