Nicaragua: Dole settles pesticide case with 4,000 ex-employees

Dole Food Company, a California-based agricultural multinational, announced in Managua on Aug. 11 that it had arrived at a settlement with some 5,000 former banana workers who said their health had been damaged by prolonged and unprotected exposure to the pesticides Nemagon and Fumazone, brand names for dibromochloropropane (DBCP). The settlement, arranged with Dole by the Texas-based law firm Provost Umphrey, covers 3,153 Nicaraguans, 780 Costa Ricans and 1,000 Hondurans; the former employees or their survivors—about 300 of the workers have died–should start receiving payment in two or three months. The amount wasn’t disclosed.

The pesticides, now banned, have been linked to cancer, sterility and birth defects. Dole used them on its Central American banana plantations from 1973 to 1980. About 17,000 former banana workers brought suits in Nicaragua against Dole and the pesticides’ manufacturers about 10 years ago. A Nicaraguan court awarded the workers $489.4 million in compensation in 2002, and the workers staged a series of protests to get the Nicaraguan government to enforce the court’s decision. US courts eventually ruled against them. The issue was the subject of a 2009 documentary film, Bananas!

The Aug. 11 settlement doesn’t cover the 13,874 Nicaraguan workers who are represented by other law firms, and the suits against the manufacturers—Dow Chemical Company, Shell Oil Company, Shell Chemical Company, Shell Chemical Company LLP and Occidental Chemical Corporation—remain open. In making the settlement, Dole admitted no wrongdoing, according to Dole spokesperson Humberto Hurtado. “This is the style of the transnationals, with a dual intention: not to appear as murderers to the public and to protect themselves from future suits,” a representative of the workers, Jacinto ObregĂłn, explained. “But the memo the manufacturer, Dow Chemical Company, put out is clear. They recognized that although the product was toxic, it could be sold in Latin America as long as the profits were greater than the losses from lawsuits.” (El Nuevo Diario, Managua, Aug. 12; AFP, Aug. 12, via La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa; La NaciĂłn, San JosĂ©, Costa Rica, Aug. 12, some from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 28.

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