Chiquita Brands International
Chiquita is a leading international producer, distributor and marketer of fresh and processed fruit and juices. With a premium brand, Chiquita is the largest employer in the banana industry, with nearly 20,000 employees in Latin America and operations in over 60 countries.
In the late ‘90s, Chiquita was the subject of an extensive and damaging article about its business practices and ethics in the local press. The company was also the target of labor and consumer activists over its labor practices and contentious employee strikes in Latin America. While facing rising costs, the company was also responding to import quotas on its fruit imposed by the European Union. As the company’s reputation, employee morale, and stock price began falling to an all-time low, company officials sought to transform their business culture into one that shareholders, employees, customers, and its harshest critics could respect.
The paths to values are many and varied. Like many companies, Chiquita arrived by way of a crisis. However, from the start, the company’s chief operating officer recognized that operating from a set of clear and simple core values was just better. No further explanation was necessary.
Led by COO and a vice president of strategy and finance, Chiquita engaged SmithOBrien to guide the company through a process that would transform its culture and business practices. The company had adopted corporate responsibility as a strategic platform, from which the entire company would be aligned behind a set of “guiding principles.” Towards this end, company officials set out to create an internal environment that would educate and engage managers and employees company-wide and challenge conventional thinking.
Since 1998, SmithOBrien has worked hand-in-hand with the management and employees to:
- Adopt new core values that could be understood, embraced and adhered to by all employees
- Adopt a code of conduct for itself and business partners
- Establish metrics and a system for third-party certification of its labor practices
- Commit resources to an integrated implementation strategy that has ensured:
- Ownership and accountability by all corporate departments and operating units,
- Internal gap analyses completed by objective and credible employees
- Management and employee training at all levels
- Stakeholder collaboration
- Adopt a global labor strategy
- Adopt a global supplier strategy and sourcing standards and the internal infra-structure needed to successfully implement them
From the start, management has recognized that in order to change the company’s culture and business practices, it couldn’t raise stakeholder expectations beyond what they could realistically deliver. And for a company, whose decisions were said to be deliberately kept quite secret from most other employees and external stakeholders, Chiquita’s future success was dependent, in part, on ongoing, open communication and defining the communication processes to both internal and external stakeholders. Furthermore, company officials began to acknowledge the contributions of external stakeholders to the company’s goals and future growth.
Equally important, senior management, while not always modeling the behaviors prescribed for them, has not stood in the way as this change process continually unfolds.
Since launching its transformation strategy in 2000, Chiquita has issued numerous corporate responsibility reports and received widespread recognition for its candor and rigor. It has negotiated what is regarded by industry observers as a groundbreaking labor rights agreement with the International Union of Food Workers and COLSIBA, a coalition of banana labor unions in Latin America. Emerging from bankruptcy in 2002 with strong balance sheet, the new leadership team embraced Chiquita’s commitment to corporate responsibility and has provided resources to further its accountability, transparency and profitability.
Testimonial"Your consulting is a different type of re-engineering that has led us to be more transparent and profitable."
former Chief Executive Officer
"I am grateful for the focus and discipline you brought to our early discussions with senior management, the talent of your consultants in the design of our training and implementation efforts, and the wise and supportive counsel you have provided throughout this process."
former Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Responsibility Officer