Local student takes on corporate giant Dole Foods and wins

SEATTLE -- When David took on Goliath, no one thought he could win.

That was pretty much the case when a local University of Washington law student took on the Dole Food Company, which happens to be the world's largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eric Harrison will be the first to say the Dole turned out to be the good guy in this story, but it certainly didn't start that way. It took persistence and Harrison's bone-deep belief that everyone should have access to clean water.

Harrison loves water, whether it's from the tap, the sky or the lake outside his back door.

"It's every part of your life," he said. "It's water, you can't do without it."

Water is why he started a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean water to communities in need. And water is what brought him to Guatemala last year.

Harrison learned that a banana plantation had cleared 1,200 acres and diverted the river. He said that move left 4,500 people -- mostly children -- without clean water.

"What's causing the most deaths in children in those countries? It's usually water related," he said.

He soon learned that the bananas being grown in Guatemala ended up with Dole.

The company touts its environmental integrity on its website, but Harrison didn't see it that way. And since he's also a law student at the UW, he decided to sue, claiming Dole wasn't living up to its promise.

"I said to myself, 'What else can I do? ' If I don't do this, nothing is going to happen down there," he said.

When Dole lost a bid to get the case tossed out, Harrison called the company and asked them to travel to Guatemala with him to see the situation first hand.

"We flew down there together, Dole, and me," Harrison said. "They wanted to see clean water as well."

A month later, Dole settled. The company denied the allegations, but agreed to help Harrison set up a water and distribution system for the Guatemalan community.

Harrison is currently in Guatemala launching the first step in the clean water project and setting up a plant for the locals to make their own clay filters.
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