A group of students rejected by a grocer took their protest against alleged practices of a leading banana seller to the streets.
For a good part of the day on Tuesday, students of Sunshine Cowan, an associate professor and coordinator of the University of Central Oklahoma’s community/public health program in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies, were holding signs and passing out fliers near Sprouts Farmers Market, 24 E. Second St.
Cowan said after students learned Chiquita bananas were being sold on the UCO campus they worked with administration and communicated their concerns to Chartwells Food Service. As of Tuesday, Chartwells said they would not be offering Chiquita bananas on campus, Cowan said.
“We were very excited,” she said. “I was not involved in that. That was students in class that got together. They went and did the presentation on their own.”
During the summer of 2013, Cowan taught a graduate health equity class and a student who does a lot of work in Colombia was in attendance. He raised class awareness about terrorism issues in the country, Cowan said.
During the fall, a consumer health and media advocacy class took the issue and created a plan. This spring, students in Cowan’s undergraduate class decided they wanted to do something about the issue.
The advocacy plan was to start with Sprouts since they’re close by, Cowan said. At the peak of the effort earlier in the day more than 40 students participated in the protest along with several other UCO teachers.
The flier informed readers that on April 4 Chiquita Brands International filed a lawsuit against the U.S. to block the release of records and internal documents from a related investigation.
Cowan said students attempted multiple times to contact local and corporate Sprouts personnel, but received no replies.
UCO student McKenzie Hart, a LaCrosse, Wisc. senior, said it was important for her to remember that they were not doing this as an arm of the university but as concerned citizens. Hart said she was gratified to see all of her classmates energized, and the experience taught her that one person can help be a force for positive change.
“I was happy with the results,” she said.
Tuesday afternoon, Sprouts corporate spokeswoman Donna Egan said she was aware of the protest and she wasn’t sure why no one from the company replied to the students’ inquiries. Sprouts cares deeply about sustainability and seeks consumer feedback, Egan said.
“Sprouts is committed to socially responsible, lawful and ethical business practices,” Egan said. “That commitment extends to our supply chain and we expect our suppliers to conduct themselves in the same manner.”
In 2007, Chiquita Brands International acknowledged paying about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These designations made it a federal crime for Chiquita, a U.S. corporation, to provide money to the organization.
Under the terms of the agreement Chiquita’s sentence included a $25 million criminal fine, the requirement to implement and maintain an effective compliance and ethics program and five years’ probation.
Since 2003, Chiquita has issued interim reports on its corporate responsibility program as part of its annual report to shareholders. In the 2009-2012 report, Chiquita says its sustainability targets for 2020 are to reduce the use of fresh water by 15 percent and carbon emission by 30 percent from a 2007 baseline.
“At Chiquita, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability are core commitments and are embedded in our Purpose,” CEO Ed Lonergan stated in the 2009-2012 report.
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