12/19/2011 12:41 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2012

Chiquita Goes Bananas over Ethical Oil

Four years ago, after the U.S. justice department began investigating Chiquita Brands, the ubiquitous banana company confessed that it had been funding terrorist groups.

Chiquita's also been accused of violating workers' rights and exposing them to toxic pesticides. When 25,000 workers employed by the fruit company in Jamaica went on strike demanding fair treatment, armed thugs shot 40 of the strikers, killing them.

And of course the company called Chiquita was formerly known as the United Fruit Company, the ruthless, exploitative, corrupt produce empire made famous for its bribery and helping to engineer coups in South America. The term "Banana Republic," describing a country ruled by an undemocratic and crooked elite, was invented to describe the colonial dictatorships propped up by the firm now known as Chiquita Brands.

And today, Chiquita Brands is attacking Canadians for our ethics? This is a company that is, truly, bananas.

Chiquita's CEO, Fernando Aguirre, has apparently made the decision to boycott Canadian oil sands.

Instead, Mr. Aguirre will ensure that his trucking fleet replaces ethical oil from Canada with more conflict oil from OPEC countries. The CEO of a company with one of the most infamous corporate stories in American history would rather send his support to the tyrannical royals of Saudi Arabia and the abusive Chavez regime in Venezuela. He would prefer to support regimes that deny women basic human rights, execute women for "sorcery" as happened in Saudi Arabia recently, and sentence people to lashes and prison for being gay. It looks like Chiquita still has a spectacularly inverted sense of corporate ethics.

And that won't change as long as Aguirre continues to take his marching orders from ForestEthics. That's the environmental extremist group that's been demanding for a while now that Chiquita (as well as competitor Dole) boycott Canadian fuel. That's what ForestEthics -- whose very name reveals how narrowly it understands ethics and seems to be entirely lacking any interest in the well-being and moral treatment of humans -- does best: publicly bully Fortune 500 companies into swearing off Canadian energy.

But if Chiquita is looking to burnish its image, it's picked the wrong group to use as its moral compass. ForestEthics itself has been caught lying, first with an anti-Alberta ad campaign, urging tourists to boycott the province, based on wildly exaggerated statistics (it multiplied the oil sands land use footprint by a mere factor of 200) and made-up conspiracy theories about companies secretly dumping oil into rivers at night.

If ForestEthics has a problem with corporations that like dirty tricks, it'll have more luck finding them in the banana business than in the oil sands.

ForestEthics was also caught red-handed last year when it suggested that clothing companies the Gap, Timberland and Levi's had all agreed to submit to the eco-group's demands to boycott Canadian oil. Turns out that ForestEthics just made that up; the shocked companies were forced to later clarify that they had agreed to no such thing.

When it came to banana companies, Forest Ethics employed the same misleading tactics: its full page newspaper ads meant to embarrass Chiquita and Dole, claimed oil sands extraction "threatens" an area of Boreal forest the size of Maine. In reality, oil sands mining disturbs an area smaller than the footprint of metro Calgary.

The ads also claimed that 90 per cent of the water used in oil sands processing ends up in lakes of "toxic waste." In reality, 80 per cent of mining process water is recycled and many in situ oil sands processes use no fresh water at all. The entire oil sands industry draws all of about one per cent of the flow of the adjacent Athabasca River.

Perhaps it isn't surprising then that an environmental group with such a flexible sense of ethics should find a partner in a banana firm made notorious for its own history of vast ethical deficits. The two of them have now teamed up to make Chiquita Brands a friend to the petro-tyrants of the world.

The Chiquita banana lady somehow doesn't seem the right symbol for that company anymore. A more suitable one would be a woman in a burka, unable to vote, drive, or even leave her house without her male guardian's permission. That's what Chiquita Brands stands for today.