* Michelle Thoughts, Other Travels

U.S. Goes Bananas in Nicaragua

On the Nicaragua Immersion this past May, two of our site visits really stood out to me. One, the factory where we saw North Face jackets manufactured (read about that visit here) and two, the tent camp where former banana workers have been protesting for four years (read more here). Combined, these brought to light much of what has gone horribly wrong with the U.S. trade policies we thought were supposed to be fair and helpful. To make a long story short, we heard straight from the source that big fruit companies like Dole have used a harmful fertilizer, Nemagon (which had been banned in the States twenty years earlier), on its Central American plantations. The unknowing banana workers now suffer from sterility, cancers, and many other diseases. One thousand have died and 16,500 were harmed in some way. Hundreds have left their families to protest in the capital, living in a tent camp until something is done. Meanwhile, Dole refuses to acknowledge its wrongdoing. It turns out, we aren’t the only ones who think the story of the banana workers should be heard. In fact, it was so scandalous that a documentary filmmaker covered the trial the banana workers brought against Dole in a new film titled “Bananas“, and companies

around the globe were watching carefully as the case “would open the US courts to other global victims of US-based multinationals.” Dole even tried to sue the filmmaker for screening the movie in the U.S.! While it hasn’t been released yet, the premiere in L.A. happens this week, as does the filmmaker’s court day to win back lawyer fees for having been inappropriately sued. Please visit www.bananasthemovie.com to learn more!

BANANAS!* trailer

from WG Film on Vimeo.

Educate Yo’self: The Background Info (Source: http://witnessforpeace.org/article.php?id=225)

Free Trade opens up markets by eliminating all taxes and tariffs on products being imported and exported, creating one large economy in which everyone competes. It encourages countries to produce for export rather than for their own consumption. Under this prescription, impoverished countries like Nicaragua have been obligated to offer cheap labor to the global economy. In the apparel industry, the cheapest countries will succeed in attracting foreign-owned garment assembly factories (maquilas).This system has spawned the notorious “race to the bottom:” a race of developing countries to be the cheapest option for the multinational corporations that produce and sell our jeans and t-shirts. So Nicaragua offers maquila investors the lowest wages in Central America, governmental tax breaks, and unenforced labor laws.

Such cost savings for U.S. corporations have taken their toll on Nicaragua’s workers. Foreign-owned maquilas routinely violate and disregard Nicaragua’s worker-friendly labor laws. The Ministry of Labor does little to enforce the law, knowing that the companies may balk at increased production costs and abandon Nicaragua for a country offering more lax laws. As a result, thousands of Nicaraguan workers are regularly insulted and harassed by superiors, forced to work late into the evenings, fired for pregnancy or illness, and denied legally-entitled pay and benefits.Unions that attempt to halt such exploitation are summarily dismantled by managements’ blatant acts of union-busting.

Under CAFTA, sold to the Nicaraguan public with the promise that a surge in maquila jobs will replace lost agricultural jobs, the country is becoming even more dependent on the maquila system. Given CAFTA’s failure to establish a realistic mechanism for labor law enforcement, more maquilas likely mean more exploitation. Many also question how long these maquila jobs will last. With the recent entrance of bigger and cheaper contenders like China, Nicaragua now faces grim competition in the global race to the bottom. To win, Nicaragua may need to allow for escalated erosion of workers’ rights.

1 thought on “U.S. Goes Bananas in Nicaragua”

  1. A brief update: Dole has postponed the court date that would decide whether they need to compensate for the documentary’s legal fees after an inappropriate law suit. Apparently they have postponed it several times, despite guidelines to wrap up the case within a shorter period of time.

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