US Corporation Found Liable for Complicity in Human Rights Violations in Colombia

U.S. Corporation Found Liable for Complicity in Human Rights Violations in Colombia

A recent jury verdict finding Chiquita Brands International ("Chiquita") responsible for deaths by a Colombia paramilitary group marked the first "bellwether trial" in a massive multidistrict litigation and is reported to be the first time a U.S. corporation has been found liable by a jury for human rights violations committed abroad.

On June 10, 2024, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida found Chiquita responsible for deaths by Colombian paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia ("AUC") and awarded $38.3 million in damages.

In 2007, Chiquita executives pled guilty to federal charges relating to financing of the AUC and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. Subsequently, thousands of civil suits were brought against Chiquita in the United States and consolidated in the District of Florida by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

The United States made it illegal to provide funds to the AUC by designating the AUC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in September 2001 and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in October 2001, adding that it had committed human rights violations in Colombia, brutally killing those it believed to be left-wing insurgents. 

Plaintiffs claimed Chiquita violated U.S. and Colombian law by paying the AUC nearly $2 million to protect its interests during the conflict and providing them with weapons to intimidate employees attempting to unionize. Chiquita argued that it was a victim of extortion. After plaintiffs' claims based on the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS") were dismissed in 2011, some state and Colombian law claims raised by certain plaintiffs were tried in front of the jury. The jury found Chiquita knowingly provided substantial assistance to the AUC and that Chiquita had not been extorted. Chiquita has stated that it will appeal.

The Chiquita verdict comes after a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed how and when the ATS can be applied to overseas conduct. Plaintiffs seeking to bring human rights-related claims for alleged injuries suffered overseas may increasingly seek to bring claims under other federal, state, or foreign laws, as the Chiquita plaintiffs did, instead of establishing a violation of the law of nations under the ATS.

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