Canadians fight back: The Banana war
December 23, 2011
I liked a tweet by Andrew Coyne the other day: “What did you do in the war on bananas, Daddy?”
Many Canadians can now say: “We fought back.”
Immediately after hearing word of the famous banana company Chiquita Brand’s boycott of our oil sands, EthicalOil.org, the grassroots advocacy organization (which I am the spokesperson of and blog for) sprang into action. We launched a Facebook group, website, and radio ads calling on all Canadians to boycott Chiquita products until they reverse their unethical, misguided boycott of our oil sands. We took our message to Twitter, where it spread faster than a prairie fire. I went on radio stations across the country, calling on Canadians to get out and boycott Chiquita products. Here’s a segment that Global National News did on our campaign.
Canadians immediately took to social media to vent their anger. It didn’t take long after Chiquita made its boycott public for Canadians, and even some Americans, to swamp the comments section of the produce company’s Facebook page, denouncing Chiquita’s decision to side with OPEC’s conflict oil — the main alternative to Canada’s — over ethical oil from the oil sands. Chiquita, in a panic, began deleting the comments, but that ham-handed censorship just made people angrier.
Thousands of Canadians across the country, offended that Chiquita would judge our oil unworthy — even though, unlike OPEC oil, it is produced peacefully and adhering to some of the world’s highest standards for workers and the environment — swore off buying Chiquita bananas and the company’s line of Fresh Express salad kits. Determined consumers began spreading the word to their fellow grocery shoppers, their supermarket produce managers, and even telling the executives of grocery chains about the growing Chiquita boycott movement.
Jason Kenney, the federal minister of citizenship and immigration, joined in. “I gather that Chiquita Bananas has no problem with Iranian oil, but is boycotting Canadian oil. No more Chiquita bananas for me,” he declared on his Twitter feed. Rona Ambrose, the federal minister of public works, encouraged Canadians to contact Chiquita’s CEO, Fernando Aguirre to “tell him his stand is wrong and how Canada respects the environment and human rights.” She said Forest Ethics, the environmental group that convinced Chiquita to boycott Canada’s oil sands, doesn’t “care about women’s rights” because it would have companies choose oil from the misogynist Saudi kingdom over oil from a champion of equal rights. She wasn’t the only outspoken female political leader to publicly condemn the boycott: Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, issued a statement announcing that she, in turn, would “boycott Chiquita products until they reverse their ill-informed decision to avoid fuel from Alberta’s oil sands,” adding “I am proud of Alberta’s record of responsible resource development.” MP Scott Armstrong from Nova Scotia and MP Bob Zimmer from B.C. both announced their plans to take Chiquita products off their own shopping lists. Alberta MP LaVar Payne added his voice, tweeting “Will start to boycott companies who boycott ethical oil from our oil sands in Alberta”, and federal minister of heritage James Moore also tweeted his support.
Chiquita was already in a precarious position to be lecturing anyone, let alone ethical Canadians, about moral corporate behaviour. Blog after blog soon began detailing the corporate history of the firm once known as the United Fruit Company, which inspired the term “Banana Republic” for its meddling in South American politics. Shoppers were quickly reminded of the stories that checker Chiquita’s company story. The Calgary Herald ran an editorial scoffing at Chiquita’s attempt at ethics-washing. “You’ll excuse us if we don’t look to Chiquita for moral guidance. It seems the Cincinnati, Ohio-based company would rather buy its conflict oil from regimes that boast their own dodgy human rights records. In that regard, at least, Chiquita is in consistent company.” it wrote.
If some public relations genius at Chiquita thought an oil sands boycott would win the company some easy points in the extremist environmentalist community (where they probably stick strictly to locally grown foods, anyway), executives were suddenly faced with the disastrous fallout that comes with insulting an ethical nation proud of its respect for human rights, democracy, peace and the environment. Whoops! Looks like they slipped on their own banana peel–PR professionals are already weighing in on what a disaster it was.
Now Chiquita is in damage control mode. Trouble is, the company has no better knack for containing a catastrophe then for avoiding one in the first place. The company has stated, by way of clarification, that it isn’t “boycotting” Canada’s oil. This is a trick of words. About three-quarters of Canadian oil exports to the US are from Alberta’s oil sands, the majority of oil production in Canada is from the oil sands and 97% of Canada’s oil reserves are in the oil sands. Chiquita’s letter to Forest Ethics of November 21st outlining their commitment to the “elimination of those [oil sands] fuels” is very clear and still stands. If the goal of a campaign is the “elimination” of the use of a product, no matter how you peel the banana, that’s a boycott.
Chiquita is learning now that its public snubbing of the oil sands isn’t so cost-free, after all — not now that Canadians are passing on Chiquita products en masse, not now that politicians across the country are condemning the firm, not now that Canadian businesses are vowing to boycott Chiquita’s products.
Canadians are standing up and fighting back. We are standing up for our economy, our jobs and our standards when it comes to human rights, workers rights, peace, democracy and the environment. We are sending a strong message: think twice before you mess with Canada; we’ll make a banana split out of you.