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Smart Alliance

Smart Alliance: How a Global Corporation and Environmental Activists Transformed a Tarnished Brand

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Smart Alliance
    Book Description:

    Large and wealthy global companies too often fail to acknowledge environmental responsibility or workers' rights. This book tells the dramatic story of one company-Chiquita Brands International-that decided to change the negative paradigm. Formerly the notorious United Fruit Company, a paternalistic organization that gave the name "Banana Republic" to tropical countries in Central America, Chiquita defied all expectations in the mid-1990s by forming an innovative pact with the Rainforest Alliance that transformed not only the corporation itself but also an important segment of the banana industry.

    Gary Taylor and Patricia Scharlin reveal the inside story of how corporate executives, banana workers, local leaders, and conservation advocates learned to work together and trust one another. Over the objections of skeptical critics, Chiquita and the Rainforest Alliance established a Better Banana "seal of approval" to certify genuine efforts to improve soil and water quality, ensure rainforest conservation, and enhance worker health and safety. This chronicle of their collaboration, told objectively and with extensive documentation, presents a promising new model of cooperative behavior--a model that shows how multinational companies can become motivated to solve critical global problems.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12807-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. Timeline
    (pp. x-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Stories about responsible companies are rare these days. Highly visible companies like Enron have betrayed investors and workers, giving the concept of certifiable corporate probity a new urgency that goes beyond the halting reform of financial accounting.

    Many of the largest and wealthiest multinational companies have failed to acknowledge their responsibility to address global environmental degradation and workers’ rights issues. But formal acknowledgment of corporate responsibility is only a first step. What is called for is a tough and credible means of assessing corporate performance “inside the factory gate” in order to verify management’s commitment.

    When so many big companies...

  7. 1 Risk, Transparency, and Trust
    (pp. 7-16)

    In early March 1999—exactly one hundred years after the birth of United Fruit—we were in Costa Rica on our way to banana country. We were accompanied by David McLaughlin, then senior director environmental affairs, tropical environmental group, for Chiquita Brands International, the successor company to United Fruit. This company, above all others, had dominated the banana business in Latin America. Even if the company had been in sync with public expectations in its early years, by the closing decades of the twentieth century it had lagged far behind rapidly changing global norms. We were after “ground truth” on...

  8. 2 Red, White, and Bruised
    (pp. 17-38)

    The 1990s were boom years for many multinational companies. They were also boom years for the restive protest movements around the world. But the decade was a roller-coaster ride for Chiquita. In the minds of the company’s principal stockholder, Carl H. Lindner Jr., and his cadre of corporate strategists, these were to be the glory years. The vaunted European Common Market and the fall of the Iron Curtain would finally result in a huge share of the banana market in Europe, where the Chiquita brand could command a decisive premium. Chiquita would recoup major investments in new farms in Central...

  9. 3 Times Change
    (pp. 39-57)

    The world loves bananas. They are a vital part of human diets throughout the tropics. Farmers can grow 44,000 pounds of bananas on a piece of land that can produce only 33 pounds of grain or 98 pounds of white potatoes. Almost 70 percent of American households eat bananas at least once a week. (Less than half that number eat apples with the same frequency.) The average U.S. shopper buys 28 pounds every year—more than any other fresh fruit. Some estimates maintain that German and Swedish families consume up to 40 pounds of bananas every year. Unlike other food...

  10. 4 Why Bananas and Why Chiquita?
    (pp. 58-71)

    It is difficult today to appreciate the virulent opposition confronting Chiquita in the 1990s, even though the larger conflict between advocates of small-scale agriculture and single-crop industrial agriculture will be with us for a long time. During the nineties social activists in Europe singled out the big multinational banana companies as the symbol of all that was wrong with the big multinational agricultural companies. Their number one target was Chiquita, and the leading campaign organization was Banana Link, which has its headquarters in Norwich, England.

    Although itself quite small, Banana Link has cast a long shadow in the banana industry....

  11. 5 Strange Bedfellows
    (pp. 72-103)

    Green labeling had been around a while before Dan Katz and his colleagues at the Rainforest Alliance determined to attempt their approach to tropical forest management. Green labels had been tried almost entirely on products such as light bulbs and toilet paper. The idea that certifiers could go out into the forest or onto farms to evaluate and approve with a seal the actual day-to-day performance of private companies was really unproven when Katz and his associates tested it in the late 1980s. At about the same time, in response to pressure from citizens, local municipal councils in Germany banned...

  12. 6 Grass-Roots Snapshots
    (pp. 104-125)

    It was inevitable that Chiquita’s fortunes would sooner or later be caught in the escalation of antiglobalization protests surrounding the birth of the World Trade Organization and its crucial role in arbitrating world trade. As it has turned out, meshing environmental and labor standards with the considerations of the WTO—set up to referee trade relations among governments—is fraught with thorny conflict, since national aspirations toward environmental protection and labor rights can be most often construed as restraint of trade.

    While Third World representatives were being excluded from the private negotiations among rich countries inside the halls, explosive protests...

  13. 7 Blue Bananas
    (pp. 126-135)

    In the last years of the twentieth century, northern Europe was the epicenter of a slow shift toward political consumerism. A few supermarket chains in the Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany were beginning to understand the impact of changes in preferences in their markets brought on by politically motivated buyers who were transforming their purchasing practices accordingly. If the companies were slow to understand, activist groups were quick to give them a nudge. In the fresh food business, an alert grower could gain an advantage by anticipating this development. Chiquita and its rivals saw the trend...

  14. 8 Agricultural Antagonists
    (pp. 136-150)

    Even though the banana trade war between the United States and the European Union had been settled, other agricultural conflicts were fueling a growing antagonism around the globe. American brands were bashed relentlessly, and toward the end of 1999 the French flatly refused to buy hormone-laced beef from the United States. Washington struck back immediately with stiff tariffs on foie gras and Roquefort cheese. At just that moment, the gathering movement favoring small farmers gained a celebrated champion, José Bové.

    An ex-Parisian who had learned English when his parents studied biochemistry at Berkeley, Bové led a small group of farmers...

  15. 9 “Daylight Come … ”
    (pp. 151-171)

    There is a good reason why there are so few big players in the banana game. Even with cutting-edge technologies and competent managers, uncertainties can play havoc with the most careful strategies. While weather and plant disease are crucial, perhaps no element in the business preoccupies managers more than labor discontent. With so many workers, Chiquita over the years has had much to contend with—and much to answer for.

    If 1998 had been a wearisome year for Chiquita, then 2001 was the year the company emerged from turmoil into something resembling daylight. On June 14 of that year, in...

  16. 10 The Many Faces of Corporate Responsibility
    (pp. 172-187)

    To understand the roots of the social accountability standard, SA 8000, we need to retrace the evolution of business-to-business management system standards in the realms of quality assurance and the environment. We will then be better able to appreciate the rapid institutional changes that Chiquita and the Alliance experienced as their unusual relationship matured.

    As Chris Wille and Dave McLaughlin circled each other in Costa Rica, campaigners throughout the world were beginning to demand that corporations be responsible not only for product quality but also for environmental and social conditions inside and outside the factory gate. They insisted that only...

  17. 11 Leveling the Label Field
    (pp. 188-200)

    When the Rainforest Alliance began the Better Banana Program, it quickly ran into rival organic and Fair Trade labeling movements in Europe. A few short years later, through a combination of success with Chiquita and tenacious reaching out across the Atlantic, BBP and the Sustainable Agriculture Network certification approach achieved—in the minds of many insiders—a rough parity with the more established labeling programs.

    Social accountability labeling under SA 8000 certification has also gained increased respect. Leaders of all four attestation movements are currently working hard to find ways to accommodate to one another. The development is of considerable...

  18. 12 Unfinished Business
    (pp. 201-236)

    Ringing down the curtain on this fast-moving unfinished drama is frustrating. Before we do, we want to tie together the loose ends of our story and show its linkages with the realities of this parlous era of terrorism, war, uncertain economies, global poverty, environmental deterioration, corporate scandals, and relentless anti-Americanism. Even if it were not sufficient to solve all the challenges, the moral and financial clout of a growing collection of certifiably responsible multinational companies would certainly be a welcome new ally in any unified drive toward sustainable development.

    The state of play has three parts: loose ends, the big...

  19. Appendix A. Fundamental Conventions of the International Labour Organization
    (pp. 237-238)
  20. Appendix B. Chemicals Banned under the Better Banana Program
    (pp. 239-240)
  21. Appendix C. Selected Tables from Chiquita’s 2001 Corporate Responsibility Report
    (pp. 241-249)
  22. Appendix D. Sustainable Agriculture Network Members as of 2003
    (pp. 250-250)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 251-266)
  24. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 267-270)
  25. Index
    (pp. 271-278)