Dole is the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, and their business began in Hawaii with their pineapple operations. Demand for this fruit has continued to grow exponentially ever since, but Dole’s dominance over the market has not been an offenseless one. The imperialistic origins of the company combined with evidence of dangerous pesticide use and poor labor standards outweigh the promises of sustainability plastered across their website. Dole should be more transparent about their pesticides, overall environmental impact, and working conditions. I suggest that consumers consider supporting smaller fruit and vegetable brands if possible.
Pineapples have many nutritional benefits, including vitamin C, manganese, and antioxidants that can benefit the immune system and digestion. Because of the nature of the fruit, pineapples don’t require much packaging other than a tag and the boxes they’re shipped in. Dole aims to eliminate fossil based plastic packaging by 2025 and invest in recycled and upcycled materials, both of which I consider empty promises until they provide evidence of substantial change.
While many of Dole’s other fruit products suffer from added sugar and wasteful plastic packaging, that’s not much of an issue with whole pineapples.
Dole pineapples are grown in Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, the Philippines, and the Ivory Coast. Dole’s website allows you to enter a farm code found on your produce to access information about where it was grown. However, the information is pretty scarce, consisting mostly of what certifications the plantation has achieved (usually some amalgamation of Global G.A.P., SA8000, Organic, Rainforest Alliance, and Fair Trade, though it differs for every farm). Dole sells both organic and conventionally grown pineapples, though I couldn’t find a breakdown of how the numbers compare or what they’re doing to try and increase organic operations. Dole grows its pineapples and bananas on massive monoculture plantations covering hundreds of acres. This requires significant pesticide use. In addition to creating a contamination risk for surrounding land and water, pesticides used in tropical fruit cultivation often harm workers, which has been an issue with Dole in the past. In one article from 2010, a worker describes his 12 hour workdays and health effects such as headaches, nausea, and chemical burns from pesticide use at a plantation owned by Grupo Acón, one of Dole’s suppliers at the time. However, Dole said that they ceased business with this supplier (though not for social or environmental reasons) and have not purchased from them since 2008. Dolefil (Dole Philippines) plantation workers have suffered from skin diseases, cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems, and reproductive illnesses. In 2012, this plantation altered natural hydrology enough to cause 65% of erosion and flash floods in the area. These are just a few examples of the systematic issues pervasive in large scale fruit farming.
Dole’s carbon commitments are mostly vague. As part of their “The Dole Way” initiative, they aim to reduce their own operations’ emissions by 50%, be carbon neutral at the farm level, and use 100% renewal energy in their processing facilities by 2030. I could find a few examples of them investing in solar energy in the Philippines and more efficient refrigeration in their transportation. Like many companies, Dole is much more eager to report about the emissions they’ve avoided rather than the total amount they are emitting. They claim that this solar facility will prevent 100,000 MT of CO2, and that modernization of their container ships had prevented 244,000 tons of CO2 in 2018 compared to 2004. Considering that Dole did not announce corporation wide sustainability goals until 2020, I assume that they still have a ways to go to make good on these promises.
As for the pineapples themselves, estimates about the carbon footprint of tropical fruit are hard to find. Bananas and pineapples grown in tropical regions require significant refrigeration across long distances, but maritime freight shipping can be a more efficient means of transportation than other options such as flying and trucking. I found two estimates that attributed about 500 grams of CO2 to every kilogram of imported tropical fruit, although there is still a high degree of variability. I don’t know if these estimates factor in farming inputs such as fertilizers or the additional transportation emissions that occur after the ship reaches port. Overall, Dole needs to be more transparent about their total emissions and exactly what actions they are implementing across their supply chain, rather than speaking in generalities.
Dole’s origins as a company as well as the legacy it has created over the past few decades should make any conscientious consumer do a double take.
Dole was founded as a pineapple company in 1901 by James Dole. His cousin, Sanford B. Dole, lead a coup against the Hawaiian monarchy in the interest of big sugar and pineapple businesses who sought further economic expansion. He became president of the Republic of Hawaii in 1894. Dole profited heavily off of selling Hawaiian imagery to white people, while employing native Hawaiians to do the intense physical labor necessary to produce their pineapples. Today, the Dole Plantation in Oahu stands as a major tourist attraction. Despite the imperialistic origins of their company, Dole has referenced their founder as recently as March of 2021, saying this regarding their new sustainability goals: “Following the principles of our founder, James Dole, we have been leaders and innovators in our industry and have taken seriously the many challenges facing our business and our world.”
Several sources I found state that Dole continued to use the pesticide DCBP on international banana plantations for years after it was banned in the United States. Widespread use of this chemical by major agriculture companies caused sterilization in thousands of workers across the world, and Dole dodged lawsuits over it for years, either claiming they lacked jurisdiction or getting them thrown out for fraud. In a seemingly contradictory statement, Dole says that they stopped purchasing DCBP in 1979 and believe no credible scientific evidence exists that could connect their use of DCBP to alleged health effects, while also saying that they have compensated some sterilized workers.
Dole’s labor standards have proven questionable. Dole, among other banana planation owners, was a strong supporter of the Solidarismo movement in Costa Rica, made up of associations that are driven by management and limit negotiation of wages, working conditions, and strikes. This was a controversial alternative to independent trade unions. Many of Dole’s employees are contract workers and farmers who lack the wages and union benefits of official employees. In 2013, despite claims of child labor, 12 hour work days, hostility towards unionization, and irresponsible pesticide use in the Philippines, Dole labelled their bananas with an “Ethical Choice” sticker, a phrase which they later tried to trademark.
In 2009, a lawsuit against Dole claimed that they had paid the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC), a violent terrorist organization, to drive out small farmers to acquire and protect land for banana farming. It was filed by 65 Colombians who had lost family members to the AUC. The case against Dole was eventually dropped, though Chiquita ended up admitting to paying the AUC, resulting in a $25 million fine. This should be taken as an example of the drastic consequences and politics of commercial fruit farming in these countries.