Fresh Fruit, Bloody Wars
Here we have a company whose president was quoted as saying “it’s important that I don’t get too knowledgable about the past” upon taking control of the company in 1975. The previous president, Eli Black, had just left the company by way of leaping out the window of his 44th floor office in the Pan Am Building in New York rather than face prosecution for giving a bribe to the president of Honduras. The dude didn’t even give two weeks notice.
What’s this “past” he didn’t want to think about? Well, there’s the massacre of striking workers in Colombia in 1928, at the hands of the Colombian army and allegedly under the orders of the company. Seriously, how could they top that?
Well, bringing down the democratically elected leader of a South American country by way of a violent coup is one way.
Back in 1951 when they were still called the United Fruit Company, a president by the name of Jacabo Arbenz took office in Guatemala. Among the things that got him elected, the biggest was an ambitious plan that would distribute uncultivated land to over 100,000 peasants in Guatemala. The main obstacle to this plan was the United Fruit Company, who just happened to own the land.
According to their estimates, the land was valued at right around $525,000. When the Guatemalan government made a low ball offer of exactly that fucking amount, United Fruit responded with a completely logical counter offer of $16,000,000. When Arbenz balked, United Fruit reportedly took the term “breakdown in negotiations” to dizzying new heights by asking the CIA to intervene. And boy did they intervene. God-DAMN did they intervene!
Along with other connections in the Eisenhower administration, then CIA head Allen Dulles had previously served on United Fruit’s board of trustees. With that kind of direct access to the highest levels of the government and with McCarthyism in full swing, we imagine the telephone conversation that resulted in the CIA intervening on behalf of United Fruit went something like this:
United Fruit: “BANANAS blah blah blah OUR LAND blah blah PEASANTS blah blah COMMUNISTS!”
United Fruit: “Hello? Hello?”
**Hears explosions in background, takes cover**
With the CIA on board to help with their cause, United Fruit launched a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to paint Arbenz as a communist threat to the United States. Included in the campaign was a film that linked the taking of United Fruit’s land to the Communist Empire, awesomely titled Why The Kremlin Hates Bananas.
Some shit just writes itself. With the general public sufficiently convinced that Guatemala was a threat (good thing we don’t fall for shit like that anymore), the CIA was free to pounce and promptly launched “Operation PBSuccess.” They didn’t call it that because it failed. In short order, the US replaced the freely elected Arbenz with a right wing dictator more willing to answer to the demands of United Fruit and Guatemala’s brief flirtation with democracy and prosperity was over.
But this story does have a happy ending. The civil war that resulted from the CIA initiated coup did finally come to an end.
Iams Pet Food
Nutritious Dog Food, Cruelty
Boy do we Americans love us some misguided outrage. If the majority had their way, Michael Vick would have been bludgeoned to death by one of the Heartbreakers during the Super Bowl halftime show. Because, if there is one thing we don’t tolerate, it’s animal cruelty. At least not from NFL quarterbacks. Animal cruelty from major corporations though? Apparently not a problem.
People for the Ethical Treatmpent of Animals (PETA), known partly for saying batshit crazy things and for having the only public awareness campaign that people have ever masturbated to.
But, in between they sometimes actually do some good. One recent example happened in 2002 when, for nearly ten months, a PETA official went undercover at an Iams testing facility to expose harsh conditions inside the plant. What they found makes Michael Vick’s shenanigans look like some Arena League shit in comparison.
And, in case you suspected (as we did) that the stories were the product of PETA’s vegetable-induced imagination, they brought back a video of the facility that will ruin your day.
Most of the details, about mutilation and such, you really don’t want to hear about. Among the less nightmare-inducing tidbits were cats and dogs gone stir-crazy from constant confinement and an employee overheard talking about a live kitten that was accidentally washed down a drain. For fuck’s sake Iams! For you statistics geeks out there, one procedure performed at the Iams facility that involved (seriously, we’re not saying) resulted in 27 dogs being killed. Just one more record Michael Vick will never break.
When confronted with the findings from PETA, Iams attempted to turn the tables and blamed the undercover PETA official as the one responsible for the various atrocities, including a claim that the PETA official oversaw an incident in which several dogs were surgically debarked to keep them from crying out for attention. Because that’s exactly how PETA gets down. But a review of phone transcripts revealed the exact opposite. The PETA official actually tried to prevent the debarking. Iams officials acknowledged this to be the case also. And then probably beat their dogs out of frustration.
Refreshing Soft Drinks, Murder
Corporations don’t get much warmer and fuzzier than Coca-Cola. You think of fearsome NFL linemen tossing bright eyed kids their jerseys, playful polar bears frolicking in the snow, the world learning to sing in perfect harmony. Hell, some internet rumors even claim Coke invented Santa Claus.
The sweet bubbly deliciousness that is Coca Cola has been a beacon of happiness for generations of kids and adults alike, even those who weren’t lucky enough to have their Coke spiked with nose candy. With all of this universal joy spreading, some people may be surprised to find that Coke II isn’t the only atrocity lurking in the Big Red Machine’s closet.
If you work at one of the various Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, South America … fucking WHY? After all, there is probably less violence to be found working for a cocaine cartel in Colombia, South America. According to some descriptions, Colombia is “a country where union work is like carrying a tombstone on your back.” If you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll realize that saying makes no damn sense, but just trust that it means working for a union in Colombia is a death sentence.
This is especially true at the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia. At the Carepa plant, five union leaders were murdered between 1994 – 1996 alone. In case after case, plant managers at bottlers throughout Colombia, afraid that being forced to give their workers that bump from $200 per month to $205 per month would bring their business to its knees, contracted with paramilitary groups to force unions at their plants to disband. In the most publicized case (meaning not really publicized at all, unless you count on the internet, which you shouldn’t), union executive board member Isidro Segundo Gil was shot ten times near the Carepa plant gates by paramilitary thugs purported to have been hired by the plant management.
The details of Gil’s assassination were outlined in a lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola by the International Labor Rights Fund. Of course, that the thugs were acting on the direction of plant management is just an allegation, but the fact that the thugs returned the next day demanding that workers quit the union is at least a little suspicious. There is also the issue of them having resignation forms prepared in advance by plant managers in hand when they made these demands. But still, these are just allegations. You shouldn’t assume anything. Like the old saying goes, “when you assume, you just make an ass out of u and me and evil corporations that condone the slaughtering of their own employees.”
Nutritious Fruit, Sterility-Causing Pesticides
Making their second appearance on the list, bananas are the standard bearer when it comes to corporate atrocity. Following in the heinous footsteps of Chiquita, Dole has a long track record of bringing the pain to South American countries unlucky enough to grow their shit. And unlike most other companies on this list, Dole didn’t even try to hide their hell raising ways. Kudos!
When several chemical workers became sterile, tests determined the cause to be a pesticide made at the plant where they worked called DBCP. When tests revealed it caused liver, kidney and lung damage, the Environmental Protection Agency banned its use in the United States. Proving themselves to be a paragon of classiness, Dole made note of the “in the United States” part of the ban and continued to use DBCP overseas. When Dow Chemicals informed Dole of their concerns over the safety of DBCP, Dole did what any company concerned with the well being of its fellow man would do. They advised Dow they would be in breach of their contract if they refused to provide them with DBCP for overseas use and agreed to take any liability for the resulting damage it may cause.
A brave move, agreeing to take the liability. Or at least it would be if they thought for a second that they would ever have to act on it. When Nicaraguan banana workers suffering the ill effects of DBCP exposure sought legal advice on how best to proceed with a lawsuit against Dole, they were told about the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens, a latin term meaning “fuck a third world farm worker.” Ok, it really means “inconvenient forum” and states a case can be dismissed on the grounds that it would be more appropriate to hear it in another locale, like the impossibly corrupt courts of the plaintiff’s home country, for instance.
Rather than taking their case to the Nicaraguan courts, which would be about as effective as taking the case to Judge Judy, the workers pressured the Nicaraguan government to find a different way to see to it that justice was served. The Nicaraguan National Assembly passed Law 364 in January 2001, to help banana workers gain compensation from companies that used DBCP. The law, which establishes a rapid procedure for workers who bring judgments before the courts, was immediately challenged by Dole along with several chemical companies. So far, despite court ordered judgments favoring Nicaraguan banana workers totaling more than $400 million, the workers have yet to see a dime.
One banana worker was quoted as saying “I ask the companies…to have a little bit of conscience with us.” We’d like to thank that worker for providing us with the funniest line of this article so far.
Delicious Chocolate Milk, Child Slaves
For any youngster that cringes at the thought of having to choke down a glass of plain milk with their dinner, Nestle Quik is a little box of magic. One tablespoon of the powdery goodness that is Nestle Quik can transform that glass of white nasty into a delectable cup of chocolately awesome. Add to this the fact that every box is emblazoned with an adorable cartoon rabbit, and what you have is a certified childhood dream maker.
At least this much is true for most kids; lazy, shiftless bastards that they are. Some kids, on the other hand, have to work for their Nestle Quik. Without going into the grizzly details that we’re sure you aren’t coming to a comedy website looking for, we’ll just say this. The majority of the world’s cocoa supply comes from Africa’s Ivory Coast. There are probably a lot of things that are illegal in the Ivory Coast, child labor, trafficking or (oh dear) slavery are not any of them. But hey, if it’s alright with the bunny, how bad can it be?
After years of flying under the atrocity radar, word of the unspeakably harsh conditions on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations finally came out in 2001. In the face of an influx of negative publicity, Nestle valiantly leapt into inaction. After issuing a few public statements claiming they had no way of knowing who did what where and when, it took a rider attached to an agricultural bill to get Nestle to even acknowledge the problem. The new legislation, passed in July, 2001, would have created a federal system to certify and label chocolate products as “slave free,” a label Nestle would qualify for if it weren’t for all the enslaved children making their shit.
Even if they did qualify, on the list of words you don’t want printed on the label of your product, “slave” comes in at a solid #3, right behind “Hitler” and “shit.” To avoid having to abide by the new legislation, Nestle agreed to a voluntary protocol to end forced labor on cocoa farms by 2005. Being that the major chocolate companies would be overseeing this new program, it wasn’t too surprising that nothing ever came of it.
When 2005 came and went with little to no change, Nestle was ready with one of the stupidest excuses imaginable. According to them, an escalating civil war in the Ivory Coast prevented them from sending anyone in to monitor the situation. Amazingly though, their team of buyers, who must consist of nothing but crack military commandos, have yet to have a problem getting in and out completely unscathed.
To add even less credibility to their claim that making delicious treats without at least some slave help wasn’t possible, several chocolate companies are now selling “Fair Trade” chocolate which is monitored to insure no slave labor is used in its production, though some sophisticated consumers say that chocolate isn’t as good, since it does not contain the unique flavor of the bitter tears of children.
We don’t want to pile on Nestle, though. If we wanted to do that, we would bring up the third-world babies that died from Nestle formula, or the company demanding millions from famine-stricken Ethiopia over a 1975 business transaction or … fuck it, we’re getting depressed.