Friday, March 19, 2010

United Fruit Company/Chiquita: Lack of access to institutional records

My great-great-grandfather, Michael Mulcahy, owned bars in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. When he died in 1917, though, his death certificate listed his occupation as watchman for the United Fruit Co. The United Fruit Company, after a century and several mergers, eventually became Chiquita Brands. So I e-mailed Chiquita to see if they maintained institutional archives for their constituent companies, whether those archives would contain information about individual employees, and if so, how to access those records.

Something about the response I got seemed a little . . . off.

As a company with a history than spans more than 100 years, we receive numerous requests for the use of past materials, including photography, film and written documents. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to employ a librarian or archivist on staff for these purposes. As a result, I regret to inform you that we do not make our archives to available to the general public.
Chiquita Brands is, for lack of a better word, ginormous, with an estimated 10,000 employees. They "lack the resources" to hire one measly archivist? You and I both know archivists aren't exactly raking in the big bucks. So they "do not make [their] archives to [sic] available to the general public"? Which means, yes they do have archives. And if they have archives, they likely maintain their archives, which means they probably have an archivist. It's just not his job to deal with the public. Maybe it's my cynical nature, or my penchant for conspiracy theories, but something about that seems suspicious, given the history of United Fruit Co. and Chiquita Brands. Both were accused of such things as payments to paramilitary groups, human rights violations, bribery, massacres, and coups. It seems possible that the archives are closed less because of resources than because of concern about what might be contained in the records.

Do I come across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist?

1 comment:

john said...

1. why are you writing this at 6 am, that seems suspicious....
2. i think u should respond with a polite letter asking them as to why they dont want to hire someone to respond to people requests....maybe they would hire u...