Honduras: Challenging Castle & Cooke

September 25, 2007

In a previous Update article (Nov.-Dec. 1977), NACLA described how Castle & Cooke (known for its Dole brand bananas) has collaborated with the right-wing military regime in Honduras to destroy progressive labor organizations there. Early last year, the military raided a workers' cooperative that operates a plantation formerly owned by Castle & Cooke, and arrested the leaders on charges of "mismanagement" and "communist control." A month later, the military arrested over 200 union
members and leaders on Castle & Cooke's plantations and a new union leadership sympathetic to the government and the company was installed.

Since then, progressive forces in Honduras and the United States have publicly criticized these actions and have called on Castle & Cooke to make a full disclosure of its involvement in Honduran political and economic life. The company, claiming that it is not legally bound to make public disclosures on its "private" business activities, refuses to comply with this request. It also asserts that it had nothing to do with the military raids that took place on the plantations.

As the military steps up its repression, the situation of plantation workers in Honduras continues to worsen. Recent reports received by NACLA reveal that the northern region of Honduras, where Castle & Cooke's plantations are located, "has been heavily militarized." In some cases, army officers are supervising plantation workers and Honduran national police agents have been placed in key posts in government agencies in the region.

While the 200 Castle & Cooke workers have been released, nine leaders from the cooperative are still being held in jail. At the time of their arrest over a year ago, these workers ran the Empresa Campesina Asociativa de Las Isletas, a worker-managed enterprise that had taken over Castle & Cooke's Las Isletas plantation. The enterprise wasorganized under the auspices of agrarian reform legislation passed during the moderate regime of former president Lopez Arellano. Castle & Cooke opposed the Las Isletas enterprise from the beginning, fearing that it would set a dangerous precedent for taking over additional plantation lands. According to a public declaration made by one of the workers, the enterprise encountered "heavy opposition directed by the Standard Fruit Company" (Castle & Cooke's Honduran subsidiary).

After Lopez Arellano was replaced by a right-wing regime headed by Melgar Castro, the campaign against the workers' enterprise reached its climax.

On February 12, 1977, Honduran army units invaded the plantation, arresting and torturing a number of workers. While Castle & Cooke claims it had nothing to do with this raid, one of its vice-presidents recently admitted that company vehicles were in fact used in the attack. Also, soon after the army seized control at Las Isletas, former employees of Castle & Cooke were brought in to help run the plantation and the newly imposed managers signed a ten-year contract binding the
enterprise to sell all of its banana production to Castle & Cooke.

Finally, NACLA has just received documentation (see below) revealing that the district commander who directed and coordinated the assault, Lt. Col. Gustavo Alvarez, has been on the Castle & Cooke payroll. The document reveals that Alvarez was authorized to receive two payments, totaling $2,850, prior to the raid. (In Honduras, the average annual income per person is less than $400.)

A Committee for the Liberation of the Prisoners of Las Isletas has been formed in Honduras to secure the release of the nine workers who remain imprisoned. In addition, the national lawyers' organization (Colegio de Abogados), which set up a commission to investigate the charges against these workers, has concluded that the prisoners have had no opportunity to defend themselves, that the charges against them are invalid, and that their basic human rights were violated during the six months they were kept in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to surface in Honduras linking Castle & Cooke to the military repression on the plantations. The Honduran press has published a document revealing the close coordination that existed between Castle & Cooke and the army at the time the 200 workers were arrested on the company's plantations. The document is a report from a military district commander to Castle & Cooke listing the names of workers arrested and stating that "they were arrested for agitating among the workers, and for interfering with the normal work routine of the company."

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In the United States, several religious organizations have filed a stockholders' resolution that would require Castle & Cooke to make disclosures on its employment practices in many third world countries. In a supporting statement for the resolution, the organizations say that this information is necessary for them to judge the "harsh published charges" that Castle & Cooke has violated workers' rights in countries like Honduras. Although no one expects the resolution to be approved by a majority of the company's stockholders, the public airing of the issue is embarrassing the company, and there are reports of dissension within its managerial ranks over how to respond to this challenge. People in Honduras, as well as church representatives, believe that the resolution will assist the campaign to release the nine prisoners in Honduras.


For more information on the church stockholder challenge, contact the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027. Castle &
Cooke's address is P.O. Box 3928, San Francisco, Ca. 94119.

Tags: Honduras, labor repression, banana plantations, Castle & Cooke, corruption

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