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Dole Accused of Environmental Destruction, Greenwashing

A lawsuit filed against Dole Food accuses the fruit and vegetable company of misleading consumers about the sustainability of banana-growing practices at a contractor’s plantation in Guatemala.

The class-action lawsuit filed in federal court by Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman alleges that despite 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.

Dole did not return calls seeking comment.

The suit alleges that Dole’s false claims to its customers violate the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California Unfair Competition Law and California Common Law in relation to fraud and unjust enrichment. The lawsuit seeks a ruling from the court affirming that Dole deceived its customers. The plaintiffs are also seeking damages, and a court order requiring that the company notify all plaintiffs and class members about its banana production methods.

In one example cited in the complaint, a contractor that supplies Dole with about 290 million pounds of bananas built a dam in Guatemala to protect its banana and oil-palm plantations. The lawsuit alleges the dam resulted in severe flooding downstream from the banana plantation, destroying local farmers’ crops and causing significant economic losses. The plantation’s development also drained 1,200 acres of wetlands, the complaint alleges.

Various governmental and environmental groups, including the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and Water & Sanitation Health Inc., have confirmed the actions of the plantation directly resulted in flooding and water contamination in the area, the complaint says.

Dole reached an agreement in September to settle 38 lawsuits filed in the US and Nicaragua alleging pesticide-related injuries. The complaints centered on a pesticide banned in 1977 – dibromochloropropane (DBCP) – which was used for more than two decades to control worms on crops. The terminated lawsuits included two Nicaraguan judgments totaling $907.5 million.

In April 2011, Dole announced it was selling bananas grown in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, which meet the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a coalition of leading conservation groups. The standards include metrics on water and soil conservation and wildlife protection, along with labor and community standards. The bananas were to be sold at select retailers throughout the US.

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