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Andreas Schotter Mary Teagarden

Blood Bananas: Chiquita in Colombia
No one laughs at the banana in its areas of origin. It is too serious a business, on which jobs and lives depend. Peter Chapman, Author of Jungle Capitalists.

For Chiquita Brands International, a pioneer in the globalization of the banana industry, bananas are not only serious business, they represent an array of economic, social, environmental, political, and legal hassles. Since its founding more than a hundred years ago as United Fruit Company, Chiquita has been involved in paying bribes to Latin American government officials in exchange for preferential treatment, encouraging or supporting U.S. coups against smaller nations, putting in place dictatorships in Central America’s “banana republics,” exploiting local workers, creating an abusive monopoly, and now doing business with terrorists.1 For American multinationals, the rewards of doing business abroad are enormous, but so are the risks. Over the past decades, no place has been more hazardous than Colombia, a country that is just emerging from a deadly civil war and the effects of wide-ranging narco-terrorism. Chiquita found out the hard way. It made tens of millions in profit growing bananas in Colombia, only to emerge with its reputation splattered in blood.2 In 2004, Chiquita voluntarily admitted criminal responsibility to the U.S. Justice Department that one of its Colombian banana subsidiaries had made protection payments from 1997 through 2004 to terrorist groups. Consequently, a high-profile investigation and legal trial followed. In 2007, Chiquita entered into a plea agreement to resolve the criminal prosecution. The interactions between the Justice Department and Chiquita were very contentious, but with the settlement, Chiquita expected that it could put the past behind and refocus on developing its business. However,...

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