Date: Sun, 21 Mar 1999 15:47:08 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: LABOUR: US Transnationals Accused of Waging Dirty War on Workers
Article: 58257
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 583.0 **/
** Topic: LABOUR: US Transnationals Accused of Waging Dirty War on Workers **
** Written 2:39 PM Mar 18, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

US Transnationals Accused of Waging Dirty War on Workers

By Alicia Fraerman, InterPress Service, 15 March 1999

MADRID, Mar 15 (IPS)—U.S. transnational corporations that distribute bananas are waging a “dirty war” against workers in Central America, according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The report, presented by Spain's Union Confederation of Workers Commissions (CCOO, an ICFTU affiliate) in Madrid Friday, documented dismissals, attacks and police repression in Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama.

The CCOO protested against the “expansionist instinct” of the U.S. firms “Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita Brands, Fyffes and branches of the abovementioned, like Armuelles Fruit Company.”

According to the Spanish trade union, the transnationals are responsible for “massive dismissals, repression of unions, human rights violations, failure to comply with collective bargaining agreements and even arrests of workers and union leaders.”

The ICFTU complaint stated that the companies were taking advantage of the impact of hurricane Mitch, which swept through Central America in late October and early November, leaving at least 10,000 dead and causing billions of dollars in losses, to offer working conditions even worse than those seen before the storm.

In Guatemala, union leaders Marvin Leon Ceron Fernandez with the Dublin plantation and Julian Guisar Garcia with the transnational Cobsa were arrested on Mar 4 and 7, respectively, the report added.

Cobsa recently sacked 465 trade unionists in spite of a legal ruling against the dismissals, the ICFTU also pointed out.

Del Monte threatened to pull out of Guatemala and move business to its plantations in Indonesia if workers refused to give up their acquired rights, according to the ICFTU document. Chiquita Brands, meanwhile, has threatened to close shop in Honduras.

In Costa Rica, the companies have taken advantage of the influx of immigrants triggered by Mitch, hiring mainly undocumented Nicaraguans and Honduras, meaning workers “have no alternative other than to accept precarious jobs where they are freely exploited.”

In Panama, police raided a plantation of a branch of Chiquita Brands in January, arresting and beating six workers, the ICFTU reported.

The CCOO and ICFTU demanded that the WTO include social concerns in its examination of the ongoing banana dispute between the United States and European Union (EU), instead of limiting discussions to tariffs and quotas.

On Mar 3, Washington imposed barriers on imports of European products in an attempt to pressure the EU to expand its purchases of Latin American bananas distributed by U.S. companies.

The General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), comprised of representatives of the world body's 134 member countries, rejected the U.S. reprisals on Mar 8, but did not overturn them as it lacks the power to do so.

The U.S. government is opposed to the EU banana import regime, which grants preferential access to former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The United States complained that the EU's Lome agreement ran counter to WTO rules because it put U.S. companies Chiquita Brands and Dole, which operate in Latin America, at a disadvantage.

In 1997, the WTO ruled that, as alleged by the United States, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, preferential access to the EU by bananas from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia violated its free trade rules.

The CCOO has urged that the European negotiators reject Washington's reprisals, and that the Spanish government directly intervene in the case and step up its pressure so that the U.S. government's “unjustified demands are not accepted.”

At last week's meeting of the WTO General Council, Latin American banana exporting countries said they were tired of the EU banana import regime's labyrinthine system of quotas and licences.

Producers argued that the import regime drove up the cost of foreign trade, and only benefited the middlemen who “trafficked” the import licences.

The United States, meanwhile, has maintained its decision to impose sanctions equivalent to 100 percent duties on a range of European products, from Italian pecorino cheese to British cashmere sweaters.

Many trade negotiators in the WTO criticise the United States and the EU for jeopardising the world body with their banana row, arguing that the two should work out the dispute on their own.

U.S. transnational corporations account for 65 percent of all bananas that enter the European market. The rest come from small producers in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Spain's Canary Islands, off the northwestern coast of Africa.