Dole Food, which operates under the name Standard Fruit in some countries, is the largest fresh fruit producing and trading company in the world, controlling 11.4% of the world banana market. Dole grows bananas - or sources from independent growers - in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Philippines, Guatemala, Honduras, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Guadaloupe, Martinique and the Canary Islands. It also owns pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Honduras and sources from independent producers in Costa Rica.
In the 1990s, Dole took a 40% share in the French ‘Compagnie Fruitière’, the biggest producer and exporter in West Africa. Having acquired UK importer JP Fruit, Dole sold it to Compagnie Fruitière in 2008 and renamed the operation Dole Fresh UK in 2009.
Behind the smokescreen
For a number of years, Dole was at the centre of an international campaign launched by 74 civil society organisations in 2006. A report entitled Dole - Behind the Smoke Screen, documented Dole’s failure to respect basic workers rights in a number of countries.
Despite its statement on environmental responsibilities and its ISO 14001 certifications, Dole's environmental record was, until recently at least, very poor. Toxic chemicals used on Dole plantations were at the origin of numerous incidents of river pollution in Costa Rica, for example. A chemical called Nemagon (DBCP), used in banana plantations around the world well into the 1980s after it was banned in the late 1970s in the USA, led to lawsuits being filed against the company by thousands of former workers. Because of a letter from the manufacturer to Dole management warning of its effects on human health, the company has been the most heavily implicated in the scandal. While the company has settled many cases, it has also lost cases in the United States and abroad. Major compensation pay-outs to victims by any of the companies involved have become bogged down in highly complex US court cases.
Signs of progress
Most recently, some progress has been made in addressing workers' rights and environmental issues. The signing of a country-specific agreement between Dole and banana unions in Costa Rica in 2007 has not resolved all the issues raised by independent trade unions, but the company has formally distanced itself from Solidarismo.
Issues around malpractices by a labour sub-contractor in Peru have been finally resolved, whilst in Ecuador, Dole-Ubesa have negotiated the company's first collective agreements in the country in both pineapple and banana plantations in 2010-11. It remains to be seen whether the progress in some countries can be translated into real changes on the ground in a country such as Guatemala, where the suppression of any attempt at union organisation in the Pacific South is still severe.
Dole is participating very actively in all the Working Groups of the World Banana Forum, launched in 2009.
Dole - Behind the Smokescreen: An Investigation into Dole's Banana Plantations in Latin America (May 2006). Available to download or hard copies from Banana Link
Dole Code of Conduct, Westlake Village, 2004
Ecological Footprint of a Dole Banana, University of Victoria, Canada, March 2002
Photo: Dole Strike, 2011