Many of the products we love and the brands that produce them are linked to human rights abuses. But justice cannot exist without accountability. Chiquita, Nestlé, Cargill, and other global corporations must be held responsible for the abuse from which they profit.
The Bloody Story of Chiquita Banana
Beginning with its role in massacres in Colombia in the 1920s, Chiquita Brands International has a long and violent history in Latin America. For nearly a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, Chiquita paid off Colombia’s deadliest paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), to terrorize communities in the country’s banana-growing regions.
During the 1990s through 2004, the AUC tortured, murdered, raped, and persecuted thousands of civilians. They carried out at least 150 mass killings and countless other brutalities.
The AUC used violence against community leaders, including teachers, activists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, religious workers, and leftist politicians. Paramilitaries also attacked those whom they considered to be “social undesirables.”
Led by the infamous Castaño brothers, the AUC was notorious for horrific mass killings of trade unionists, banana workers, political organizers, and social activists. In 2001, the U.S. government classified the AUC as a terrorist organization—but Chiquita continued its relationship with the paramilitaries. When the U.S. Justice Department found out, Chiquita was ordered to pay $25 million in criminal penalties. None of that money went to the victims of Chiquita-AUC brutality.
Chiquita’s victims have gone decades without justice. No compensation. No apology. No closure.
EarthRights is fighting to change that. We are working with human rights lawyers around the world to seek justice for thousands of people who have suffered at the hands of this cruel household brand.
We’re fighting for justice for these atrocities that happened years ago—and others that profit-mad corporations continue to commit today. This lawsuit is a wake-up call: The United States must hold corporations accountable for their abuses of human and environmental rights. Learn about other companies that have profited from human rights abuses here.
Dig deeper into the Chiquita case. Visit the EarthRights Doe v. Chiquita Brands International case page, or The Chiquita Papers at the National Security Archive.
You can help us bring justice to the families of Chiquita’s victims and end corporate-sponsored violence. Directly support our community leaders and legal strategists, and help share the bloody history of Chiquita bananas.Act now to support EarthRights
Chiquita paid nearly $1.7M to the AUC, which allowed them to increase their ranks from 3,000 to 20,000 and buy weapons, ammunition, and military vehicles. The AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2008, but not before killing and torturing thousands of victims in the banana growing region of Colombia where Chiquita was operating.
The Chiquita 13—high level officials in the company—allegedly schemed to make payments happen and cover them up. Here are a few of their profiles.
Carlos Castaño Gil, the youngest member of a warlord family, founded the AUC in 1997 as an umbrella organization that merged several paramilitary groups. He led the AUC during the time that many of the crimes committed on Chiquita’s behalf took place. Castaño was killed in April 2004 under suspicious circumstances.
Salvatore Mancuso was the AUC’s second-in-command. After a peace process in Colombia, he was jailed in a maximum security prison and eventually extradited to the United States. In depositions for EarthRights' lawsuit against Chiquita, Mancuso has shared intimate details of how the organization functioned to benefit banana companies.
Éver Veloza-Garcia, also known as HH, was a longtime paramilitary commander of the Banana Bloc who later became an AUC member under the direction of the Castaño brothers. He was instrumental in the attacks against banana farmers as part of the efforts to weaken the labor movement. In voluntary depositions to authorities, he admitted to being involved in at least 800 crimes, including murders and kidnappings.
Charles Dennis “Buck” Keiser, former General Manager of Banadex, worked at Chiquita for more than 30 years, overseeing operations in a handful of countries across the globe. He is alleged to have cut a shady deal with Carlos Costaño Gil to help them defeat FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group. Internal memos obtained through FOIA requests show Keiser negotiated and authorized many so-called “sensitive payments” to guerrilla and paramilitary groups, with guidance from senior officials. He now runs his own agribusiness out of Sierra Leone.
Álvaro Acevedo González became Banadex’s general manager in 2001. As the new general manager, González authorized payments to paramilitaries. In order to hide their payments, Chiquita inflated González's salary—he transferred the extra money to the paramilitaries.
Carl H. Lindner Jr. and the Lindner Family are midwestern royalty. In Cincinnati, you’ll find their name plastered on university buildings, sports complexes, movie theaters—even a school. During his time as CEO of Chiquita, Carl H. Lindner Jr., with the help of his son Keith, fought tooth-and-nail to defend and grow Chiquita’s plantation holdings in Colombia in order to boost market share in Europe. Under their leadership, the company ran up debts, leaving the brand no choice but to declare bankruptcy in 2002.
Corporate Power Without Consequence
Now they are trying to evade responsibility as victims seek to hold the companies accountable in U.S. courts. The victims of these abuses have a right to seek justice, and the U.S. Supreme Court must ensure this case moves forward.
For years, Nestlé sourced its chocolate from cocoa plantations in West Africa that use child slave labor. Meanwhile, Nestlé is hiding its history through slick PR campaigns, failing to live up to its commitments to phase slave labor out of its supply chain.
Like Nestlé, Cargill allegedly profits from child slave labor in its supply chains and has refused to compensate victims of forced labor and child abuse.
The reality is, when corporations prioritize profits over people, communities suffer. In 2005, former child slave laborers brought a class action lawsuit against Nestlé and Cargill in U.S. courts. The plaintiffs allege that Nestlé and Cargill aided and abetted child slavery because they purchased and supported cocoa farms in West Africa while knowing these abuses were taking place.
The Trump administration and lobbyists for Big Business are trying to use this case to set a precedent that would close the doors to justice for countless victims of corporate human rights abuses worldwide.
The plaintiffs allege that as 12-to-14-year-olds, they were trafficked from Mali to the Ivory Coast. On cocoa farms, they were tortured, enslaved, and forced to work for up to 14 hours a day, six days a week, with no pay.
Child labor still exists on cocoa farms in West Africa. Child laborers often work in dangerous conditions, where they are not allowed to attend school or see their families.
In the early 2000s, Nestlé and Cargill promised to remove slavery and child labor from their supply chains. They broke their promise. Journalists and researchers document that the problem is as bad as ever, and the victims of past abuses have never secured justice for what they suffered.
According to the plaintiffs, the companies were aware of child slave labor and could have stopped it. The companies allegedly had exclusive buyer contracts with many cocoa growers and regularly visited and provided financial support, training, and farm supplies to these farms that used child slave labor.
"I tried to run away, but I was caught... as punishment, they cut my feet, and I had to work for weeks while my wounds healed."
-Former Cocoa Farm Child Laborer
For decades, whenever legislators threaten to get tough, corporations like Nestlé and Cargill have promised to take care of the problem. They’ll say anything to avoid accountability. And they know that the best way to do this is to replace laws with toothless “voluntary initiatives” that have repeatedly failed to get results. It’s time to change the law to protect people’s human rights, not corporate profits.
We need immediate reforms:
Chiquita, Cargill, and Nestlé aren't the only corporations linked to human rights abuses like these. The agribusiness, mining, and energy industries have profited from abusive tactics around the world.
At least 83 multinational corporations, including Nike, Apple, Google, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, and HP, have reportedly profited from the Chinese government’s atrocities against the Uighur community in Xinjiang, China. The Chinese government has come under scrutiny for forcefully detaining millions of Uighurs into “re-education” camps where they are tortured and exploited for slave labor. This is the largest forced internment of a minority group since the United States detained people of Japanese heritage during World War II. Even those Uighurs who are not placed in these concentration camps have faced overwhelming repression, including the use of invasive, high-tech mass surveillance and mass sterilization. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute connected the Uighurs’ forced labor in 27 factories to 82 global brands.
Colorado-based Newmont Corporation runs large mining projects worldwide, at times using violence and corruption to get its way. In Peru, security forces acting under a memorandum of understanding with Newmont responded with violence against community activists protesting the Conga mine. The police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, killing several people and injuring dozens between 2011 and 2014. Around this time, Newmont began a multi-year effort to intimidate land defender Máxima Acuña-Atalaya de Chaupe and her family, bringing meritless charges against them. According to allegations by the family and their local lawyers, Newmont acted to influence the Peruvian courts in its favor. EarthRights is representing the Chaupe family in an ongoing lawsuit against Newmont.
We’re a team of community leaders and legal strategists around the world who take on powerful corporations, governments, and banks that destroy people’s lives and our planet for profit.
Dear Representative [NAME]:
As a constituent, I urge you to take action to stop corporate human rights abuses. Any corporation that sells its products in our country, or raises money on our stock exchanges, should be required to respect human rights. Profit should not come at the expense of people’s lives or dignity.
America needs to be built on justice. Corporations that harm people should face consequences, just as individuals do. Take, for instance, Nestlé and Cargill.
For decades, these two global mega-brands enabled and profited from slave labor on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast. Victims of Nestlé and Cargill’s abuse are seeking compensation in U.S. courts--the case will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in December.
Plaintiffs allege that they were trafficked to Mali as 12-14 year olds where they were forced to work as slaves on plantations that supply cocoa to the agriculture giants, enduring torture and work without pay. Both companies had exclusive buying contracts with cocoa growers, regularly visited cacao plantations, and provided financial support, training, and farm supplies. According to the plaintiffs, the companies were aware that plantations in their supply chains used child slave labor.
Nestlé and Cargill hold enormous influence over the cocoa industry and could have stopped the abuse, but did not.
Though both companies have since updated their human rights policies and strengthened oversight of their supply chains, they have never compensated the victims. A 2019 investigation by the Washington Post revealed that child labor remains a problem in Ivory Coast. A recent report by the University of Chicago’s NORC researchers for the Department of Labor found that child labor among agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas of Ivory Coast and Ghana increased from 31 percent to 45 percent between 2008 and 2019.
Now, the companies are trying to evade responsibility as victims seek to hold them accountable. The victims of these abuses have a right to seek justice.
Nestlé and Cargill are not the only companies linked to abuses like these. We cannot allow companies that use abusive tactics to operate with impunity. We need binding legislation that holds corporations accountable for violating human rights and provides justice to victims.
Please take action today to stop corporate human rights abuses.
We work alongside communities around the world to use their power and the power of the law to end abusive policies and practices that threaten human dignity and natural resources.
Through community-led organizing and strategic litigation in courts around the world, we put maximum pressure on some of the worst violators of human and environmental rights. Our campaigns and cases put a stop to abusive policies and practices. We’ve won tough cases and campaigns that brought meaningful change, and we’re preparing the next generation of earth rights defenders to protect the rights, resources, and livelihoods of their communities.
When corporations, governments, and banks get a blank check to violate human and environmental rights, we all pay the price. People lose their lives, and communities lose control over their natural resources.