US: Chiquita mulls lawsuit over NGO allegations
Chiquita claims NGO's statements are "wrong"
Chiquita Brands International is considering whether to sue an NGO that has issued a lawsuit over the banana supplier's alleged false marketing claims.
The produce giant told just-food it may hit Water and Sanitation Health with its own suit for defamation after the NGO accused the company of "unfair and deceptive" advertising.
Last week, WASH announced it had filed a lawsuit against Chiquita. The NGO criticised Chiquita's marketing practices because, it alleged, a supplier to the company in Guatemala has polluted water supplies.
However, Chiquita said claims from WASH and founder Eric Harrison were inaccurate.
"We have already reached out to Mr. Harrison to mediate the situation and have underscored multiple times that his understanding is wrong. Our invitations have gone unanswered," Chiquita said.
"At this point we are contemplating filing a claim against WASH and Eric Harrison for defamation and other torts associated with his incorrect statements. We have reached out to Mr. Harrison to mediate the situation and to underscore the inaccuracy of his understanding."
In the suit, WASH claims drinking and river water near the plantation in the Central American country have become polluted from the use of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers by Chiquita supplier COBIGUA. Drinking water in six local communities has been contaminated, the NGO alleges.
"Chiquita sells millions of pounds of bananas that are produced in ways that destroy natural ecosystems and contaminate the drinking water of local communities living next to Chiquita's largest Guatemalan supplier," Harrison said. "The pesticides and fungicides used on these Chiquita-contracted plantations are toxic, and the aerial application falls on homes, schools, and residents. Trucks bear Chiquita's logo, signs near the plantations bear Chiquita's logo, and though Chiquita may not own the plantation property, the Chiquita affiliation is undeniable."
Harrison also took aim at the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies Chiquita's bananas.
When I brought this to their attention, both they and Chiquita became very uncomfortable," Harrison said. "If consumers believe the little-green-frog endorsements given by the Rainforest Alliance are true, then the Rainforest Alliance ought to be certain that those products are indeed eco-friendly and farmed in a sustainable, non-polluting, non-harmful manner as they claim. Otherwise, why should consumers think that the Rainforest Alliance is anything more than a marketing tool?"
Harrison said the Rainforest Alliance had since taken some marketing materials for Chiquita off of the certification group's site but he insisted "more must be done to curb Chiquita's deceptive marketing practices".
In response, the Rainforest Alliance said: "Recently, Water and Sanitation Health (WASH) raised complaints to the Rainforest Alliance regarding Chiquita Brands International and the marketing of bananas it sells from Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM banana farms in Guatemala. In response to WASH, the Rainforest Alliance conducted investigative audits of the relevant certified banana farms. The auditors found that the farms were in compliance with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) certification standards.
"The Rainforest Alliance and the SAN take allegations of non-conformance with the SAN certification standards seriously. We appreciate the role that organisations like WASH play in bringing potential issues to our attention."
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