Chiquita Brands Brought to Justice by Colombian Victims

This landmark case recognises the rights of the victims.

The case against Chiquita Brands won recognition of the atrocities suffered by the victims and their families, who were awarded £30 million (USD$38.8 million) in compensation. The case involved eight families and 9 victims of crimes committed by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence forces of Colombia, AUC). According to the lawyers, a broader litigation against Chiquita includes hundreds more victims. Their cases may also be resolved through additional trials or an eventual settlement.

Testimony at trial revealed that the AUC oversaw a reign of terror, slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians, including relatives of the Plaintiffs. The AUC also targeted union leaders, human rights activists, and strike participants, all while protecting Chiquita’s interests.

“Hopefully, this verdict will inspire others to fight for corporate accountability. In my experience, corporations operating in the global economy will do whatever they can get away with. We just showed them that there are real consequences for corporate outlaws.” Terry Collingsworth, Executive Director of IRAdvocates.

Litigation against Chiquita Brands for paying the AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group, began seventeen years ago in July 2007, and was joined with several other cases against Chiquita in 2008. Since then, there have been multiple court rulings and appeals. In 2007, Chiquita was ordered by a U.S. Court to pay a USD $25 million fine, after the company pled guilty to  secretly paying the AUC – a group that was designated as  Foreign Terrorist Organisation (“FTO”) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (“SDGT”) by the US Government in 2001. The AUC was also known to be the worst perpetrator of human rights violations and killings of human rights defenders, as well as being one of the country’s largest drug traffickers. Chiquita paid the group a total of USD $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004. No compensation had been paid to the victims until now.

Multinational company Chiquita Brands owned Banana plantations in Urabá and Santa Marta and made monthly payments to the AUC through a wholly-owned Colombian subsidiary, Banadex. By 2003, Banadex was Chiquita’s most profitable operation. 

For several years Chiquita paid the AUC by cheque through various intermediaries, recording these payments in its corporate books and records as security payments. In June 2002, Chiquita began paying the AUC in Santa Marta directly in cash according to new procedures established by senior executives. The newly implemented procedures concealed the fact that Chiquita was making direct cash payments to the AUC. Chiquita was completely aware that it was paying a terrorist group. It also facilitated the AUC’s operations by allowing the group to use its ports for importing weapons and its banana boats for exporting cocaine to the U.S. and Europe.

“This verdict sends a powerful message to corporations everywhere: profiting from human rights abuses will not go unpunished. These families, victimized by armed groups and corporations, asserted their power and prevailed in the judicial process,” said Marco Simons, EarthRights International General Counsel.

ABColombia’s thanks go to Earthrights, the lawyers who brought this case, as well as the law firms that represented the victims: including Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, PA, and Conrad & Scherer, LLP. A joint opening statement and closing argument was delivered by the lawyer, Jack Scarola.

ABColombia recognises the courage and persistence of the victims and their families who brought this case. This important case has drawn global attention the terrible human rights violations perpetrated, usually with impunity, by multinational corporations particularly in conflict situations.

Further Reading:

Unmasking Glencore a Toxic Legacy in Colombia

La Colosa Anglo-Gold Ashanti Open Pit Gold Mine

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