Tuesday, 2 August 2011
CASE 332 - Dole
Dole Food Company, Inc is an American-based agricultural multinational corporation headquartered in Westlake Village, California. The company is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, operating with 75,800 full-time and seasonal employees who are responsible for over 300 products in 90 countries. Dole markets such food items as bananas, pineapples (fresh and packaged), grapes, strawberries, salads, and other fresh and frozen fruits and juices.
Dole's Chairman founded the Dole Nutrition Institute, a nutritional research and education foundation. Started by James Dole "the pinapple king" in 1851. In 2009 the company had about $6.8 billion in annual revenue.
Starting in 1988, the Philippines undertook what was to be a bold initiative to redress the historically high concentration of land ownership that has impoverished millions of rural Filipinos and undermined the country's development. The Comprehensive Agricultural Reform Program (CARP) promised to deliver land to the landless. It didn't work out that way.
Plantation owners helped draft the law and invented ways to circumvent its purported purpose. Dole pineapple workers are among those paying the price.
Under CARP, Dole's land was divided among its workers and others who had claims on the land prior to the pineapple giant. However, under the terms of the law, as the Washington, D.C.-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) explains in an October report, "The Sour Taste of Pineapple," the workers received only nominal title. They were required to form labor cooperatives. Intended to give workers - now the new land owners - a means to collectively manage their land, the cooperatives were instead controlled by wealthy landlords.
Through its dealings with these cooperatives," ILRF found, Dole and Del Monte, (the world's other leading pineapple grower) "have been able to take advantage of a number of worker abuses. Dole has outsourced its labor force to contract labor and replaced its full-time regular employment system that existed before CARP." Dole employs 12,000 contract workers. Meanwhile, from 1989 to 1998, Dole reduced its regular workforce by 3,500.
Under current arrangements, Dole now leases its land from its workers, on extremely cheap terms - in one example cited by ILRF, Dole pays in rent one-fifteenth of its net profits from a plantation. Most workers continue to work the land they purportedly own, but as contract workers for Dole.
The Philippine Supreme Court has ordered Dole to convert its contract workers into regular employees, but the company has not done so. In 2006, the Court upheld a Department of Labor and Employment decision requiring Dole to stop using illegal contract labor. Under Philippine law, contract workers should be regularized after six months.
Dole emphasizes that it pays its workers $10 a day, more than the country's $5.60 minimum wage. It also says that its workers are organized into unions. The company responded angrily to a 2007 nomination for most irresponsible corporations from a Swiss organization, the Berne Declaration. "We must also say that those fallacious attacks created incredulity and some anger among our Dolefil workers, their representatives, our growers, their cooperatives and more generally speaking among the entire community where we operate." The company thanked "hundreds of people who spontaneously expressed their support to Dolefil, by taking the initiative to sign manifestos," including seven cooperatives.
The problem with Dole's position, as ILRF points out, is that "Dole's contract workers are denied the same rights afforded to Dole's regular workers. They are refused the right to organize or benefits gained by the regular union, and are consequently left with poor wages and permanent job insecurity." Contract workers are paid under a quota system, and earn about $1.85 a day, according to ILRF.
Conditions are not perfect for unionized workers, either. In 2006, when a union leader complained about pesticide and chemical exposures (apparently misreported in local media as a complaint about Dole's waste disposal practices), the management of Dole Philippines (Dolefil) pressed criminal libel charges against him. Two years later, these criminal charges remain pending.
Dole says it cannot respond to the allegations in the ILRF report, because the U.S. Trade Representative is considering acting on a petition by ILRF to deny some trade benefits to Dole pineapples imported into the United States from the Philippines.
Concludes Bama Atheya, executive director of ILRF, "In both Costa Rica and the Philippines, Dole has deliberately obstructed workers' right to organize, has failed to pay a living wage and has polluted workers' communities."