15 Mar What Did Chiquita Do Wrong?
As has been widely reported, Chiquita Brands International has been fined $25 million for paying designated terrorist groups in Colombia not to attack its workers:
US authorities charged Chiquita Wednesday with paying 1.7 million dollars between 1997-2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group on the US list of terrorists.
Chiquita, through its subsidiary C.I. Bananos de Exportaction S.A. (Banadex), paid the AUC in exchange for protection in the banana-producing areas of Uraba and Santa Marta, Colombia, court documents said.
In the past, the company had also made payments to leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), both also listed as terror groups, US prosecutors said.
Chiquita, which sold Banadex in 2004, said in a statement it had voluntarily disclosed to the US Department of Justice in 2003 that its subsidiary “had been forced to make payments to right- and left-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia to protect the lives of its employees.”
“The payments made by the company were always motivated by our good faith concern for the safety of our employees,” Chiquita chief executive officer Fernando Aguirre said in the statement issued Wednesday.
Am I missing something? I’m not exactly a fan of multinational corporations that are involved in the fruit business in Central and Latin America — and I particularly loathe Chiquita, which began life as the notorious United Fruit Company. But is it really wrong for a multinational that, for better or worse, is doing business in a dangerous area to pay paramilitary and rebel groups not to attack its workers? It’s the worker who suffers when that happens, not the corporation — which will simply replace the victim with someone equally exploitable. It’s not like Chiquita was taking sides: as the article notes, the corporation was paying both right-wing and left-wing groups for protection. And I doubt that the Colombian government — which, not surprisingly, described the fine as a “magnificent signal” — would protect Chiquita’s workers from the far more bloodthirsty AUC, given the close ties between the right-wing paramilitary organization and the government itself. So what, exactly, did Chiquita do wrong?