US fresh produce company Chiquita Brands International today (Thursday) announced that Manuel Rodriguez, senior vice president of government and international affairs, will assume the additional role of corporate responsibility officer.

Rodriguez will oversee Chiquita's adherence to leading environmental, social and ethical standards and the measurement, verification and reporting of the company's performance in those areas, it said.

"As a member of the executive leadership team, Manuel will ensure that corporate responsibility continues to be woven into every major decision we make as a company," said Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer.

"Manuel has been a driving force behind the development and implementation of the labour rights framework agreement we signed in 2001 with the International Union of Foodworkers and COLSIBA, the affiliation of banana workers unions in Latin America. This landmark agreement has been widely recognized as a model for workers' rights," he said.

In his new, Rodriguez will report to Aguirre and will communicate on important policy issues with the nominating and governance committee of the board of directors.

The company also announced that David McLaughlin, senior director of environmental and social performance, will now report directly to Rodriguez and continue to oversee the integration of corporate responsibility into Chiquita's management systems and day-to-day operations. In 1992, McLaughlin pioneered Chiquita's partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, a leading environmental conservation organization.

"Both Manuel and David have long been outspoken advocates for high standards of environmental and social performance, including labour rights, both within Chiquita and in the industry," Aguirre said. "They have earned the respect of the company's external stakeholders, and I look forward to their continuing guidance of Chiquita's progress in these areas."

Jeffrey M. Zalla, who has served as Chiquita's corporate responsibility officer since 2000, will assume new responsibilities as vice president of finance for Chiquita Fresh North America upon the completion of financing for the company's announced acquisition of Fresh Express.

"Jeff has provided excellent stewardship of Chiquita's corporate responsibility efforts since 1998," Aguirre said. "As a result of Jeff's extraordinary leadership and passion for our corporate responsibility performance, Chiquita has earned the respect of many who were once harsh critics of the company. I am pleased that Jeff will now focus his talent and energy on strengthening our North American business, which is one of the most important strategic priorities for the company."