Alum responds to accusations against Chiquita

Your recent article entitled “Chiquita denies responsibility to Hondurans” is dismayingly inaccurate.

The article’s main point seems to be that, although deservedly praised for its extensive relief efforts, Chiquita has not carried through on its commitment to “cushion the blow” of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. The article states that “the casual web browser wouldn’t even know Hurricane Mitch had touched down in Honduras if they [sic] relied on Chiquita.com for their [sic] information.”

Had the author of the article in fact bothered to log on to the Chiquita.com website at any time over the past few months, she would have discovered a substantial discussion of the Company’s commitment to Hondurans in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. She would have learned that the Company intends to make the enormous investment required to rebuild its Honduran banana operations to pre-Mitch levels, and thereby preserve thousands of jobs. Recognizing the extreme need of its workers until banana harvests can resume, Chiquita has established a comprehensive program of financial aid, with the support and cooperation of the labor union and the Honduran government. The financial assistance package, which we believe is unprecedented in the industry, includes cash, free housing, electricity, water and family medical care.

Most tellingly, in February 1999, the labor union representing Chiquita’s workers in Honduras issued a statement to correct the “distortion made by certain international communications media” regarding Chiquita’s actions, concluding that “before and after this crisis, the Company has acted with social responsibility.”

Without pretense of factual support, your article stoops to facile innuendo in discussing the articles on Chiquita published by the Cincinnati Enquirer in May 1998. The author does admit that it was “morally reprehensible” for the reporter to break into Chiquita’s voicemail system to report his story. She also dutifully acknowledges that the Enquirer itself renounced the articles shortly after publication, stating that the conclusions and accusations in the articles were “untrue and created a false and misleading impression of Chiquita’s business practices.” But then she says the “pirated information from the Company’s private voicemail system reinforces the accuracy of the reporter’s accusations.”

How does this follow? Would it have occurred to the author that a “morally reprehensible” person would have used stolen voicemails selectively and out-of-context in order to support false conclusions? Consider that the reporter’s former editor at the Enquirer recently stated to the press that the reporter is “an admitted liar and felon, and anything he says should be judged on that basis.” Chiquita filed a libel suit against the reporter for the very reason that his accusations and conclusions were false and defamatory.

The article is replete with other misstatements. But there is a larger problem. It is perhaps fashionable to blame multi-national companies like Chiquita for economic conditions in less developed countries. This attitude is an intellectual and moral cop-out. Chiquita has been a vital contributor to the improvement of living conditions in Latin America. Its wage scales and benefits are substantially higher than for other agricultural workers in the region. It is the industry pioneer in developing best practices to sustain and improve the environment. But for all that Chiquita tries or wants to do, it lacks the resources and ability to make an impoverished nation prosperous or to make a hurricane-devastated country whole. The need is for solutions, not misplaced blame.