Strange Fruit

The brutal reality of the banana industry

Text by Bianca Jagger

Tank _vol 7issue 110

Still from Bananas!* courtesy Dogwoof 


Bananas!* tells the story of a group of campesinos who work in the banana plantations of my native country, Nicaragua, and who attempt to prosecute their employer, the multi-billion-dollar company Dole Foods, for concealing its use of DBCP (dibromochloropropane), a pesticide that has been banned in the US since 1985. The workers had been exposed to lethal levels of the chemical. It left many of them sterile and suffering from skin and kidney diseases. It caused their children to be born with birth defects. And it claimed the lives of many of their coworkers. In 2007, a Los Angeles jury awarded six workers several million dollars in compensation, but a year later, the judgment was thrown out when anonymous Dole witnesses claimed that several of the plaintiffs had never worked on a banana plantation. But some of the witnesses later came forward, saying that they were bribed by Dole to lie. Francisco Cano, one of the workers, explained, “What they wanted was that I declare that the [medical] exams had been altered, and that they had not worked on the banana plantations, and they would give me $225,000... they deceived us; they deceived all of us. They just gave me $300 and nothing more. Bananas!* was released the following spring; Dole promptly filed a defamation lawsuit against its production company, WG Film, and its director Fredrik Gertten, but then withdrew it. Last December, a Los Angeles judge found that a “careful review of the film did not support Dole’s assertions and ordered Dole to pay the filmmakers’ attorneys’ fees and costs. Bananas!* exposes the David-and-Goliath relationship between tens of thousands of poor Nicaraguan banana plantation workers and Dole, one of the world’s largest food companies, and reminds us of the desperate need for reform in the global food industry. §