Dole Foods said it is dropping a defamation lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker after complaints that it was trying to limit free speech.
The Westlake Village fresh food giant last month sued filmmaker Fredrik Gertten for showing his documentary “Bananas!” despite a Los Angeles court ruling that said it was based on a fraud. Dole’s suit prompted protests in Sweden and by some Dole vendors that the food company was trying to interfere with the freedom of speech.
In a statement Wednesday night, Dole said it decided to withdraw the lawsuit “in light of the free speech concerns being expressed in Sweden, although it continues to believe in the merits of its case.”
“While the filmmakers continue to show a film that is fundamentally flawed and contains many false statements, we look forward to an open discussion with the filmmakers regarding the content of the film,” C. Michael Carter, Dole’s general counsel, said in the statement.
The documentary portrays controversial Los Angeles plaintiff’s attorney Juan Dominguez as a crusading lawyer who travels to Nicaragua and signs up thousands of local men who claim they were made sterile as a result of exposure to pesticide used on Dole’s banana plantations.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that Dominguez took part in a fraud by a network of U.S. and Nicaraguan attorneys who coached Nicaraguans to give false testimony. Some of workers allegedly hadn’t even worked on Dole banana farms. The network also falsified lab reports to show the men had been made sterile by exposure to the toxic chemical. The judge’s ruling is being appealed.
When shown during this summer’s Los Angeles Film Festival, festival organizers included a written disclaimer stating that while the film did not present a fair and accurate account, it was worth showing as “a case study” of what happens when a story changes after a documentary is completed.
Dole’s announcement that it was withdrawing the suit came a day after the company launched an initial public offering expected to raise roughly $500 million, with net proceeds to pay down debt.