Bananas, Chiquita, and Globalization

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  • Topic: Banana, United Fruit Company, Costa Rica
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  • Published : July 13, 2010
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Bananas, Chiquita and Globalization

While globalization is a relatively new phenomenon in theory, but not necessarily in history, as of 2009 it has created transnational corporations linked to government, international economic institutions, and non-government organizations. (Steger 67). With this definition bananas are a textbook example of the globalization of tropical fruit commodities. The transnational corporations of the United States, most notably Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte, have been linked to the governments of Latin and South America, the World Trade Organization, and the “organic” fruit movement. By tracing the path from banana plantations to supermarket it becomes clear how the “morals” of capitalism have permeated into the global banana market by emphasizing cheap labor, indifference towards the environment, and trade liberalization. This commodity chain of corporatized “dollar” bananas demonstrates how globalization benefits the powerfully rich fruit companies and not the countries and laborers where bananas are grown; and further, “dollar” bananas highlight consumers’ ignorance of the food they eat.

It all started with the United Fruit Company at the turn of the 20th century in Costa Rica with the Soto-Keith contract. (Wiley 71). This contract between Costa Rican president and American entrepreneur laid the railroad tracks from San Jose to the port of Limon for the future transnational company, United Fruit (Wiley 71). Because of debts owed to the entrepreneur the government gave him acres of land, which were the future banana plantations of United Fruit Company. This United States based company was innovative in the sense that they combined all parts of the commodity chain under their control for efficiency reasons, from plantation to railroad to shipping, to marketing and distribution (Wiley 70). This very capitalist mentality of vertical integration formed a banana monopoly in the region. This vast amount of control drove out any competitors, leaving United Fruit Company the sole player in the United States consumer market. By utilizing their “Great White Fleet” of refrigerated ships United Fruit was globalizing the relationship between the global South and North. United Fruit is also notorious for bribing governments of Latin America countries for land, earning the global south countries the name banana republic for United Fruit’s role in “domestic policies”. The actions of United Fruit can be summed up in this quote, “Given it’s stranglehold over the region, United Fruit in turn came to be known locally as ‘el pulpo’, the octopus” ( Murray 12). To revamp their image they changed their name twice, once in 1970 to United Brand and again in 1984 as Chiquita. Today United Fruit is known as Chiquita. Clearly, United Fruit Company was the 20th century version of transnational corporation Chiquita. Also, the two other major United States transnational corporations, Dole and Del Monte, were formed as “spin off” companies of United Fruit Company. Bananas are grown year round in many tropical areas of Latin America and South America close to ports. Most exported bananas are grown within 30 degrees of the Equator (UNCTAD). Ecuador is the biggest exporter in the world, followed by Costa Rica , Colombia , and the Philippines (Josling 7). The conditions of these countries make for excellent growing conditions for bananas. Bananas require high temperatures and damp soil, which can be found in the tropical jungles of Latin America . Bananas also require huge tracts of land for harvesting, making Latin and South American countries ideal places for transnational companies to set up camp. Initially, the bananas grow from suckers, which are underground stems from mature banana plants ( A trunk like tree grows, although bananas are considered an herb, and banana clusters grow upside down from the tree. Bananas are a very fragile, perishable fruit;...
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