Dole South American laborers win verdict
Six employees of The Dole Food Company recently recovered verdicts against Dole and Dow Chemical for illegal exposure to a toxic chemical. The Dole Food Company continued to use in South America a chemical, DBCP, that it discontinued using in this country in 1977. The chemical kills pests that attack the roots of fruit-bearing trees and increases banana production by twenty percent, however, it also rendered test animals--even the ubiquitously-procreating rabbit--sterile. Production of DBCP was suspended in 1977 after workers producing it in California were found to have low or zero sperm counts.
When Dow attempted to stop shipping DBCP, Dole allegedly threatened to sue and forced Dow to honor its previous commitments. According to the documents produced by Plaintiffs, as much as 1.4 million pounds of the chemical were used where the six laborers worked, and a Dole internal memorandum suggesting a policy that laborers be warned of the danger of the chemical in their own language was rejected in 1978 as "not operationally feasible...need not be implemented". Dole's numerous arguments against liability included the specious claim that the employees had not proved that they were fertile before they were exposed to the chemical. That kind of argument, alone, probably warrants a large verdict against the party who proffers it.
Dole had originally objected to appearing to defend the suit in Central American Courts. We understand that today it objects to defending the cases in Los Angeles.