Jessica M. Karmasek Feb. 18, 2015, 1:45pm



SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) - A proposed class action has been filed against Chiquita Brands International Inc., one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of fruits and vegetables, for allegedly misrepresenting its environmental and harvesting practices.




Plaintiff Justin Jablonowski filed his complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California Feb. 9.




 




Jablonowski claims Chiquita misleads consumers in terms of how its bananas are grown.




 




He contends, in the 28-page complaint, that the company’s bananas are manufactured in ways that are harming Guatemalan residents and destroying the region’s ecosystems.




 




“When a company falsely represents itself as an exemplar of environmental stewardship and/or omits the truth about its environmental and harvesting practices, which would be material to a reasonable consumer, and thereby induces consumers to buy its products, that company has engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices,” lawyers for the proposed class wrote. “This consumer class action arises from such practices.”




 




According to the complaint, Chiquita places its iconic “blue sticker” on each banana, indicating that it has been produced in compliance with the company’s “strict standards” and is of the highest quality.




 




Among Chiquita’s “strict standards” are practices that “conserve wildlife habitats, national resources and promote community well being.”




 




“In fact, some of Chiquita’s bananas -- including bananas grown in impoverished areas of Guatemala -- are produced in a way that destroys natural ecosystems, contaminates the drinking water of local communities, and poisons local residents,” the complaint alleges.




 




“Chiquita fails to disclose in its marketing materials and at the point of sale that its production methods contaminate water supplies, destroy the crops of local communities, and cause illnesses in children.”




 




According to the complaint, Chiquita purchases millions of pounds of bananas per year from plantations that have caused environmental harm to ecosystems that have historically provided sustenance and livelihoods to more than 7,000 Guatemalan people.




 




Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the consumer-rights class-action law firm that is representing the proposed class, said the company knowingly hid the fact that its production practices were environmentally harmful.




 




“Chiquita knew that consumers valued environmentally sound production methods, and used its deceptive marketing to cover up its foul production methods,” he said.




 




He continued, “Chiquita’s blue sticker is supposedly an ‘iconic symbol for high quality fruit,’ but Chiquita’s trademark sticker is only serving as a subterfuge to blindside consumers for its own profits.”




 




Hagens Berman launched its investigation into the claims against Chiquita in May.




 




The proposed class action alleges that the company’s false claims to its customers violate the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California Unfair Competition Law and California Common Law in relation to fraud and unjust enrichment.




 




Jablonowski, a San Diego resident, notes in the complaint that had he been informed of the “damaging methods” used to produce Chiquita bananas, he would not have purchased them.




 




“We strongly believe that Chiquita knew about these harmful practices that have been so damaging to local ecosystems,” Berman said.




 




“No company should be able to get away with such a blatant disregard for the environment and community in which it operates, especially when a company profits so heavily by misleading consumers, as we allege Chiquita has done.”




 




Representatives for Chiquita, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit.




 




From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.


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