A consumer has filed a proposed class action in California federal court alleging that Chiquita Brands, Inc. is responsible for the destructive practices of its “de facto subsidiary,” Cobigua, including the effects of its use of pesticides on the water supply of neighboring communities. Jablonowski v. Chiquita Brands, Inc., No. 15-262 (U.S. Dist. Ct., S.D. Cal., filed February 5, 2015).
In the complaint, the plaintiff points to Chiquita’s efforts to represent itself as a responsible company that protects natural ecosystems—including its “famous blue sticker” designed to show that a banana meets the company’s “strict standards”—and he argues that the company indicates that its suppliers are held to the same standards. Cobigua, a Guatemalan company that appar-ently sells about 95 percent of its stock to Chiquita, “contaminates rivers and drinking water in the affected area with fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and organic matter” and “mixes fertilizers into its irrigation system every 14 to 21 days and aerial fumigates its banana fields every 6 to 8 days using toxic chemicals” without leaving any buffer zone between its property and schools and homes, the complaint alleges.
The plaintiff argues that Cobigua’s actions have resulted in contamination of the neighboring communities’ drinking water supplies with levels of nitrites, nitrates and heavy metals “10 times the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization.” These activities rebut Chiquita’s representations of itself and its suppliers, the complaint says, and had he known of them, the plaintiff would not have purchased Chiquita’s products. The complaint alleges violations of California consumer protection statutes as well as fraud by concealment and unjust enrichment, and the plaintiff seeks damages, certification of a California class and attorney’s fees.