With Didier Leitón Valverde

Chiquita: Verde e amarela

In the distinctly agro-industrial region of northern Costa Rica, devoted primarily to pineapple and banana crops, more than 200 Chiquita Brands workers were illegally dismissed so that the transnational corporation could evict them and demolish their houses. We spoke about this with Didier Leitón Valverde, general secretary of the Union of Agricultural Plantation Workers (SITRAP).
Photo: Gerardo Iglesias | Rel UITA

-What new problems are you having with Chiquita Brands?
Chiquita has never been an easy company, but after it was acquired by Brazilian capitals it toughened its anti-labor rights and union bashing policies. It intensified its refusal to engage in dialogue and does not listen to or talk with unions at all.

If the union so much as sets foot in a plantation, Chiquita puts on a big show, calling in the police, as a way of generating fear among the workers. It is a completely hostile attitude.

If the union sends an official communication to the company raising an issue about a given situation, management delays the answer for two months, and when it finally responds it does so only to comply with a formality, without any intention of giving a solution to the workers’ demand, leaving them in a situation of complete defenselessness.

Labor relations “made in Brazil”

-Brazilian transnational corporations have developed an authoritarian, arrogant, and top-down culture…
-Absolutely. Chiquita shut us out completely. It only calls us when it is interested in something in particular, and then they summon us to the Ministry of Labor in San José, the capital.

A clear example of this authoritarian and unfair behavior by Chiquita is the company’s decision to demolish the single-room houses (known as baches, or houses for bachelors). When the union took action to stop this measure, what the company did was to request a hearing at the Ministry of Labor to notify the labor authorities that it was demolishing the houses.

When the right thing to do would have been to discuss it with the union first, to try to find a solution, and not simply communicate a decision that had already been made and which affects the workers directly.

In addition to this, we are not allowed to go into the plantations to talk to the workers and invite them to join the union…

-This is a common practice in Brazil, both in rural establishments and in urban production facilities, where the union cannot go into the workplace…
-Right now, for example, we have a notice summoning us to a hearing at the Ministry, requested by Chiquita, to talk about being admitted into the workplaces.

-Did this happen with the previous management?
-No. We used to be able to go into the workplaces and speak with the workers, we had a newsletter, we invited workers to join the union, and we did everything else involved in union work in the field. But now we are denied that right.

They are obviously hiding behind the health situation generated by the Covid-19 pandemic and also the Fusarium (Panama disease) outbreak in the banana crops. In the case of the outbreak, there is no ban on entering plantations affected by this fungus.

The National Banana Corporation (Corbana), which gathers private sector producers, has only asked that some biosafety precautions be taken; at no time has it warned against going into the plantations.

Out in the cold

-How many people lived in the baches that were demolished?
-More than 200 people were affected by the measure, without prior notice. They came with an eviction letter and expected the occupants to leave. Most of them, of course, had nowhere to go and they lacked the economic means to rent a place. And right then and there they were offered a severance pay.

Many of these workers had no other choice, so they ended up accepting the severance pay.

-What actions will the union take?
-We’re insisting on having a meeting with Chiquita’s top executives, under the framework agreement, to exhaust that instance. In addition, we have filed actions in court for the illegal dismissals.

We are also appealing to international support to make this situation known and, in particular, we are asking for the support of the IUF to arrange this meeting with the company’s management.

If they refuse to meet with us, we are going to prepare a denunciation campaign that engages consumers. In this sense we should point out that this company has Rainforest Alliance certification. Another issue we are facing.