Reestructuring at DOLE ; transnational greed, local unemployment

"La rosa sin espinas no sería rosa,
El cactus sin su flor carecería de esperanza"

["Without thorns, the rose would not be a rose;
without its flower, the cactus would have no hope"]

Restructuring at DOLE: transnational greed, local unemployment

(Traducido por Peter Lenny,   a CSN translator)

Dole Food Company, the world’s largest multinational producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables, controls approximately 20% of cut flower production in Colombia and is the second largest investor in flowers in Ecuador. On October 12, a company release announced that, as part of a performance-enhancement restructuring program, it was closing down its farms at Splendor – El Corzo and Porcelain in Colombia and all its flower operations in Ecuador.

Although the multinational¹s decision is being presented to public opinion as atypical, it confirms the reports that Corporación Cactus and other Colombian and international organizations have been making for over ten years now of the adverse effects of free, direct foreign investment in Colombia. Dole¹s decision to cut costs and increase its productivity and competitiveness will yield greater profit margins for the multinational, but impoverishment and declining quality of life for working men and women.

The company¹s actions reflect the mechanisms of the free market economic model, which ­ for countries like Colombia and Ecuador ­ entails setting up for-export agribusinesses, like flower growing, based on monocultures, majority female labor, and violations of the rights to decent employment, trade unionization and health, but are portrayed as the best avenue to development  for Latin American countries.

Throughout the process of discussing and signing the free trade agreement with the United States, it was claimed that this model would generate employment. Today, however, it is throwing more than 3,000 working men and women out of work, which means depriving at least their 9,000 dependants of a livelihood. These families that rely on the company are unlikely to find other employment. Far from contributing to Colombia¹s development, this is aggravating poverty, especially among the women who represent more than 60% of the sector¹s workforce.

In parallel with this, regions like Sabana de Bogotá, which have set up flower-growing agro-industries as a mechanism for developing their municipalities, are going to by hurt by Dole¹s decision. They too have sidelined food production and come to depend directly and indirectly largely on flower growing which has monopolized their economic activities, leaving them vulnerable to private restructuring decisions.

This situation may lead to a serious regional crisis, if this multinational and/or businessmen in the sector decide to follow Dole¹s lead and withdraw completely, as in Ecuador. The conditions of life of the men and women living in those territories will deteriorate alarmingly.

Finally, what has happened as a result of this decision highlights the labor rights abuses given that the measure taken by the Dole Food Company, through the Dole Fresh Flowers division, is in breach of the right to trade unionization. Of the more than 13 plantations it holds in Colombia, it has decided to close Splendor – El Corzo, although ­ according to the workers ­ it shows no sign of losses. It is on that farm that Sintrasplendor, the independent union affiliated to Untraflores, is most present and where it has brought claims on behalf of its members and reported the pressures that the multinational has brought to bear on the union.

Should working men¹s and women¹s claims for their rights be annulled by closing down the companies they work for? Should the development of a whole region depend on decisions by multinational and national private capital? Should free-market competition, productivity and efficiency rest indefinitely on the poverty of thousands of people? Should quality employment be a Utopia for Colombian men and women? Should particularly women finance multinationals¹ private earnings with their labor?….    The answer is NO.

We therefore demand of:

Dole to keep its farms open, to abstain from voluntary dismissal plans or from pressuring working men and women to waive their rights, and to report transparently the real facts of its economic situation.

The local authorities to encourage discussion and debate of the effects of this measure in the municipalities affected, and to demand that Dole render accounts publicly given the social and economic responsibility for the effects of this decision on the region#that Dole be held publicly accountable for the social and economic effects of this decision on the region#y que exijan a la multinacional la rendición de cuentas públicas por la responsabilidad social y económica que esta decisión trae a la región.

The Ministry for Social Protection NOT to authorize collective dismissals in companies of the Dole group, which would mean a labor massacre.

The Colombian national government and Congress, in view of this clear evidence, to abstain from signing the free trade agreement with the United States and other similar treaties, which benefit transnational corporations at the cost of the economic, social and cultural human rights of the people of Colombia.

We also invite:

Consumers the world over to lobby Dole NOT to close down the farms and to respect the rights of the men and women working on them.

All local, national and international organizations to express their solidarity with and to support the independent trade union, Sintrasplendor – Untraflores.

Working men and women not to enter retirement plans and to organize for collective self-defense and to fight for their grievances.

Corporación Cactus, Bogota – Colombia, October 2006.

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