(Beyond Pesticides, September 26, 2008) On September 24, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Ivory Coast farmworkers’ claims that they were victims of genocide when pesticide exposure made them sterile. The nearly 700 plaintiffs were exposed to the soil fumigant and nematocide 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane, or DBCP, while working on Dole Food Company farms in Africa. The original First Amended Complaint was filed on April 6, 2007, and despite the latest setback, the Africans’ attorney, Raphael Metzger, said he would pursue a rehearing.
Until 1977, DBCP was widely used in U.S. agriculture, when it was banned for all uses except pineapples. In contrast, DBCP was widely used for fruit production in developing countries in to the 1990s in spite of its U.S. regulatory status. “The manufacturers continued making money on [DBCP] by shipping it to Third World countries where farmworkers were given it to use,” Mr. Metzger said.
The suit, Abagninin v. Amvac Chemical Co, was filed under the Alien Torts Statute and contended “that such conduct supports claims under the ATS for genocide and crimes against humanity because the conduct was undertaken with knowledge of DBCP’s effects and pursuant to a State or organizational policy.” The court rejected Abagninin’s claims because it “held that genocide requires specific intent to destroy a particular group of victims, and that Abagninin only alleged that AMVAC acted with knowledge of the consequences of DBCP.”
“It’s a violation of international law to undertake acts which you know will prevent births,” said Mr. Metzger, who accused companies of “marketing this poison to the Third World for population control.”
Legal action by farmworkers in developing countries against companies like Amvac and Dole have been making news in recent years. A notable victory for farmworkers came last year, when Nicaraguan banana plantation workers were awarded $3.3 million in a similar sterilization case. Costa Rican workers filed a similar suit in 2004.