January 3, 2003 - Nicaraguan banana workers who believe they were made sterile through exposure to the pesticide Nemagon, shown marching in today's photo story, will finally have their day in U.S. Court. According to The New York Times, a ruling by a federal judge in New Orleans has opened the way for a lawsuit by 3,000 banana workers seeking millions in damages, the first time a case like this will be tried in the U.S. Over the objections of the Bush Administration, foreign courts have begun awarding millions in damages to banana workers, although the U.S.-based companies are refusing to pay. Shell Oil, Dow Chemical, Occidental Chemical, Dole Food, Del Monte, and Chicquita have been named in various cases. The workers marched in Nicaragua in November 2002, demanding compensation for health problems related to Nemagon exposure.
In one similar case tried in a Nicaraguan court in December 2002, the judge ordered Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, and the Dole Food, to pay $490 million to 583 banana workers adversely affected by the use of the pesticide Nemagon. The case was filed in Nicaragua under a controversial law that allows any Nicaraguan worker to sue a foreign company. However, Dow Chemical called the judgment "unenforceable" because the case was supposed to be moved to a U.S. court, and because the ruling was "based on a law passed in Nicaragua that its own attorney general has called unconstitutional." The companies refused to pay.
Nemagon, banned in the U.S. since 1977, contains the active ingredient dibromochloropropane (DBCP). Studies on workers have shown that exposure to DBCP cause men to produce fewer sperm and to eventually become sterile. Other symptoms of exposure include headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, and weakness in workers. There is also evidence that DBCP causes cancer in animals and humans.
Beyond Pesticides will examine the impact of multinational corporations on farmworkers further this spring at the 21st National Pesticide Forum, Toxics in the Age of Globalization, April 25-27, 2003, at the University of Texas at Austin. Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO, is scheduled to speak. Visit the Forum webpage for details.
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