Chiquita wants to be a brand that your children love. It also wants you to forget it worked with violent paramilitary groups in Colombia to grow its bananas. The banana giant struck a marketing deal with LEGO to be featured in upcoming Lego Movie 2, which hits theaters today. Chiquita’s character — a LEGO brick banana peel called Banarnar voiced by Ben Schwartz (who we loved as the quirkily amoral, yet likable Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Rec) isn’t the first time Chiquita is entering into strategic film partnerships for kids movies.
The new marketing stunt is Chiquita’s latest attempt to endear itself to American families, following its previous sponsorship of Universal Pictures’ Despicable Me and Minions franchises (I still can’t get those banana-shaped minions out of my head).
The campaign, according to Chiquita, has a focus on fun, collaboration, and family values.
But is there something more sinister behind Chiquita’s latest marketing blitz? The campaign happens to hit just as a major human rights lawsuit against Chiquita is heating up, moving toward an October trial.
Thousands of Colombians whose family members were murdered by Chiquita-funded death squads are seeking justice from the banana giant, many of them represented by EarthRights International.
So here’s the truth behind Banarnar’s family history:
- Chiquita grew many of its bananas on large plantations in Colombia, taking advantage of civil conflict there to purchase land at lower prices. In fact, the Colombia plantations were some of its most lucrative.
- Chiquita made regular payments totaling more than $1.7 million, to paramilitary death squads in the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, or AUC, a brutal organization known for mass killing and designated by the U.S. Government as a terrorist organization.
- For years, using funds provided by Chiquita, AUC paramilitaries terrorized local communities in Colombia’s banana-growing regions.
- One of the victims of this violence includes John Doe 9 (a pseudonym used in the lawsuit to keep his family safe) who was a worker in the Colombian banana plantations, a labor union leader, and the sole breadwinner in his family. In 1997, he was tortured, decapitated, and dismembered by the AUC. Another victim, Jane Doe 4, an advocate for displaced people, was murdered by AUC paramilitaries in front of her family, leaving four children aged 5-13 years old.
- Chiquita admitted its payments to the AUC and has already been convicted of a U.S. federal crime; the company paid a $25 million fine to the U.S. Government.
- Despite this fine, Chiquita has made no effort to provide any compensation or other support to the thousands of people whose family members were murdered by Chiquita-funded death squads.
- Thousands of these survivors have sued Chiquita in the United States, in several lawsuits including a class action complaint brought by EarthRights International.
- Chiquita also paid other terrorist groups including the FARC guerrillas; the company already made an out-of-court settlement with the families of Americans murdered by the FARC.
- During the same period that it was paying the AUC, more than a ton of cocaine was also seized from Chiquita’s ships from Colombia, and Chiquita’s private port in Colombia was used to smuggle in a shipment of arms intended for the AUC.
- Just last September, the Colombian government announced criminal charges against thirteen former Chiquita executives for their roles in this illegal behavior.
We hope that LEGO and Schwartz didn’t know about this sordid conduct when they agreed to promote Chiquita’s products – but really, they should have. It’s even on Chiquita’s Wikipedia page (!).
LEGO has enjoyed a stellar reputation for ethical behavior and corporate responsibility. If it wants to keep that reputation, it needs to condemn Chiquita’s conduct, and show that it takes these issues seriously by meeting with victims of Chiquita’s death squads.
Children who saw their parents murdered in front of them, by killers funded by Chiquita, are now facing the same brand promoted in a family movie. LEGO needs to take action to address this, and make clear that Chiquita does not embody the fun, happy and creative brand values that LEGO wants to promote.
Letter to Neils Christensen CEO, LEGO Group.