In 1977, the USA banned the use of pesticides containing DBCP. The science was definitive: Sterilization. Cancer. Birth defects.
In spite of the ban and their prior knowledge, the Dole Food Company continued to spray the poisonous chemicals on its South American plantations.
Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten stood up to Dole. His feature-length documentary Bananas!* captured the court case between the corporation and a handful of its Nicaraguan laborers. The movie laid bare the details of Dole’s environmental and humanitarian abuses.
Dole took offense. Attempting to muzzle the documentary, the company hired a team of lawyers to sue Gertten and halt the distribution of the film. But as word got out, the Swedish people rallied behind the director’s freedom of speech. Protecting Sweden’s constitutional right to open expression, citizens noisily backed Gertten’s entitlement to uncensored press. The public outcry caught the attention of the national government. Inspiring a unique screening in the country’s parliament, Gertten’s case united the Left and the Right. The Swedish people started to boycott Dole products.
“I’ll tell you a funny story,” Gertten told Adbusters from his US hotel room. “After the film came out, I was staying at a hotel in Stockholm – the biggest Nordic hotel chain. And they had Dole bananas for breakfast. So I took a picture with my cell phone and put it up on Twitter and Facebook. It took, I think, three hours. People started to tweet and call the company, and subtly they withdrew all Dole bananas all over the country. In every hotel. Whenever you see an unethical banana being sold or given away, you can just post it. People are suddenly so aware.”
These acts were not part of a coordinated campaign – but they had wide-reaching effects. These potent local challenges forced Sweden’s largest supermarket chains to question their allegiance to Dole products.
“The big corporate superstores have special people who analyze what’s going on in the world,” the filmmaker describes. “They know that politics can destroy their business. If there is a suggestion of some ingredient that causes cancer, or some new thing that’s happened on the West Bank, for example, they are ready to move. This is what happened with the public response to Dole.”
Bananas make up 1% of a supermarket’s total sales. 1% is, as Gertten puts it, “a hell of a lot. It’s a very lucrative business.” As customers began to boycott Dole products, Swedish supermarkets saw their revenue slashed. Major chains threatened to withhold their business if Dole did not clean up its rotting public image. Some stores, like the Swedish hamburger chain “Max,” cut ties to Dole altogether.
And it’s about time.
For more than a century, Dole’s corporate modus operandi has been exploitation, theft, environmental degradation, and sanctioned murder. Despite basing its international brand on “The Dawn of the Nutrition Age,” Dole is a company whose founding family helped overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii in favor of American sugar interests. It is a company that has, for more than a hundred years, consistently paid its foreign workers at the level of indentured servants. It is a company that has hired Colombian paramilitary groups to kidnap and execute labor leaders thought to be working against their corporate interests.
Dole got a bloody nose in Sweden. But the company continues to monopolize the universal market share. Now we need to take the Swedish response global. We need a worldwide boycott.
Grassroots activism inspired corporate change in one country. We can do it again internationally.
— Kate Wilson
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