Lawsuit takes Dole's sustainability claims to task

The Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman filed a lawsuit against Dole for knowingly purchasing bananas from growers whose operations have destroyed wetlands and poisoned water sources with pesticides in Guatemala.

The lawsuit filed this week suggests that like too many corporations, Dole has found it more convenient to employ the tactics of greenwashing rather than commit to genuinely sustainable practices. According to Hagens Berman, "In spite of Dole's promises to act as a safe and sustainable company in communities where its products are grown, the company knowingly purchased bananas from a plantation in Guatemala that devastated the local environment and community."

This lawsuit flies in the face of Dole's effort to position itself as an environmentally responsible company after settling lawsuits totaling more than $900 million for its use of a banned pesticide in Nicaragua. In 2011, the company announced that it would sell bananas on farms certified by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a coalition of conservation groups that seeks to establish sustainable agricultural standards throughout agricultural supply chains.

"A contractor who supplies Dole with approximately 290 million pounds of bananas built a dam in the Department of San Marcos in Guatemala to protect its banana and oil-palm plantations," the law firm stated. "The complaint alleges the dam caused extensive flooding, and that development of the plantation included draining 1,200 acres of pristine wetlands."

"The dam resulted in severe flooding downstream from the banana plantation, destroying local farmers' crops and causing significant economic losses."

"Dole promised its customers it had an 'unwavering commitment' to environmental responsibility," managing partner Steven Berman said. "Yet, it gave its business to a plantation that showed a complete disregard for the local environment."

Berman said that farmers in the region, who could previously count on two harvests a year, now barely harvest enough to live on.

"The drinking water that local people rely on has nitrate levels ten times the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization," he said.

The lawsuit contends that by espousing sustainable agricultural practices that it did not in fact follow, Dole has violated the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California Unfair Competition Law and California Common Law in relation to fraud and unjust enrichment.

"We applaud it when companies make -- and follow -- declarations of ecological responsibility," Berman said. "But when a company increases its market share by misleading consumers, as we allege Dole has done, that is both despicable and cynical."

Image by Tish1 via Shutterstock.

This piece originally appeared on Social Funds and is reprinted with permission.