Magazine article New Internationalist

Banana Benders: Transnationals Do Legal Gymnastics to Avoid Compensating Banana Workers

Magazine article New Internationalist

Banana Benders: Transnationals Do Legal Gymnastics to Avoid Compensating Banana Workers

Article excerpt

FOR more than 20 years, Nicaraguan banana plantation worker Maria Isaidris Cruz Salgado has suffered from scabs affecting her whole body. When she got pregnant, she swelled up so badly that the foetus - which had no bone structure - had to be cut out. In February, Maria Isaidris walked the 160 kilometres from her town to Nicaragua's capital, Managua. She was with thousands of other workers who - like her - claim to be suffering from exposure to pesticides containing the chemical agent dibromochloropropane (LBCP).

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Their goal was to enlist government support in their fight for compensation from the companies they hold responsible: transnationals that allegedly sold and used the pesticides in Central America even after DBCP was banned in the US in 1979. After several weeks of camping rough outside the National Assembly in appalling conditions the workers returned home armed with government promises of aid. But those promises have so far proved empty.

Empty too have Leen the compensation awards initially promised by the legal system. At the end of 2002, a Nicaraguan court ordered Dow Chemical, Shell Chemical and Standard Fruit (now owned by Dole Food Company Inc) to pay $489 million to some 500 banana workers allegedly affected by DBCP. The companies refused to recognize the ruling, arguing that the particular law (Law 364) it is based on is, as Dole put it, 'unconstitutional and violates international due process'.

The workers' attorneys then attempted to get the judgement enforced in the US but, rather incredibly, translation errors led to an initial dismissal. Efforts are now under way to have that decision reversed. Meanwhile, the plan is to try to get this ruling, and a further one delivered in March, executed in other countries where the companies have assets, such as Venezuela and Ecuador. …

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