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Hope For Workers Rights on Some Banana Plantations

8th May 2017
Correspondents: Banana Link

The 5 May announcement by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) that Fyffes are to be temporarily suspended from membership raises hope for workers at their subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras, that labour rights would, in future, be fully and properly respected.

The ETI’s action follows a complaint submitted by Banana Link and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and upheld by the ETI that Fyffes are in breach of the ETI Base Code by failing to properly respect Freedom of Association and the right to Collective Bargaining and to provide a safe and hygienic workplace on their subsidiaries’ plantations.

Banana Link and the IUF welcome this opportunity for Fyffes to establish a mutually agreeable framework for engagement with local trade unions in Honduras and to introduce effective measures to ensure respect for the labour rights of all workers in its supply chains. We hope that Fyffes will, in future, be able to evidence full compliance with the ETI Base Code of Conduct and thus have their membership restored.

This also comes as welcome news to the Freedom & Fairness for Fyffes Workers campaign, launched in January this year by a global alliance of civil society organisations and trade unions. The campaign is calling on Fyffes to establish and implement a global company wide policy to ensure the respect of workers’ rights throughout its supply chains. The ETI suspension illustrates the seriousness of Fyffes failures to date and an opportunity to remedy these.

The right to form trade unions and the right to organise to collectively bargain, protect workplace rights and improve working conditions, are key aspects of the global human right to Freedom of Association. Individual workers should be free to exercise their right to join a trade union, without action by employers to restrict that right, or to coerce workers to renounce their rights, as has been evidenced at Fyffes subsidiaries.

A tragic illustration of the vehemently anti-union culture that currently exists at Fyffes subsidiaries’ plantations in Honduras was the armed attack last month on Moisés Sánchez, union organiser at Fyffes’ subsidiary in Honduras, in which the message of the assailants was clear: if he continued his union activities he risked death.

IUF General Secretary, Ron Oswald said, "Fyffes’ new owners Sumitomo and the company’s many retailers should seriously reflect on the seriousness of the ETI’s unprecedented action and now take concrete measures to rectify the abuses highlighted by the ETI and all those who have been campaigning to defend the fundamental human rights of workers in Fyffes’ supply chains.".

Jacqui Mackay from Banana Link said, "We welcome this action by the ETI, as will the workers at their subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras who have seen their labour rights consistently violated over recent years. We sincerely hope that Fyffes are willing and able to put in place the necessary procedures to ensure Freedom of Association and a safe workplace throughout their global supply chains, and that they are successful in being readmitted to the ETI, as a company in full compliance with the ethical standards of the ETI Base Code"

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General Notes

  1. Banana Link is a small not-for-profit co-operative, founded in 1996, which campaigns for a socially just, environmentally sound and economically viable banana industry. Based in Norwich, we work in close partnership with Latin American banana workers trade unions, small farmers in the Caribbean and civil society organisations in Europe and the U.S. http://www.bananalink.org.uk/
  2. The International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) is an international federation of trade unions representing workers employed in agriculture and plantations, the preparation and manufacture of food and beverages, hotels, restaurants and catering services and all stages of tobacco processing. http://www.iuf.org/w/
  3. Details of the terms of Fyffes’ suspension from the ETI are available here [Link to ETI announcement]
  4. The ETI Base code of Conduct http://www.ethicaltrade.org/eti-base-code
  5. The history of our complaint to the ETI, prior to the suspension of Fyffes, as recorded by ETI is:

    "ETI received an official complaint about the Fyffes/workers dispute from the IUF (the International Union of Food Workers) and the NGO, Banana Link in April 2016 on behalf of a local union.

    In line with our procedures, we initially attempted mediation. Regrettably, those efforts were unsuccessful.

    Under the guidance of our board (which includes officers from the TUC, the ITUC, IndustriALL and the IUF in addition to equal numbers of companies and NGOs) we then moved into a formal process.
    Since then, the following has occurred:

    • ETI’s Executive Director reviewed evidence submitted by all parties to the dispute and upheld key aspects of the complaint, deeming them substantive and robust.
    • Fyffes was asked to prepare a remediation plan.
    • ETI’s Executive Director judged that the remediation plan failed to fully address the issues raised.
    • A sub-committee of the ETI board reviewed the process, decided that the Executive Director's judgement should be upheld and an improvement letter was sent to Fyffes under ETI's Membership Obligation Procedure, which is a disciplinary stage.
    • Fyffes was given until February 3rd to respond with a detailed and time-bound action plan. They failed to meet this requirement adequately at which point the ETI Executive Director requested that the ETI Board Member Disciplinary Committee consider the case.
    • Fyffes exercised its right under our Membership Obligation Procedure to present its case on the dispute to the Committee. The Committee’s brief was to consider Fyffes’ representation, the previous complaint and any other pertinent information and make a judgement on whether Fyffes was meeting its membership obligations.
  6. The Committee met on 30th of March, after meeting with Fyffes' representatives. Their recommendation will be presented to the full ETI board when it next meets in May.”
  7. Details of the Freedom & Fairness for Fyffes Workers campaign can be found here - http://makefruitfair.org/fyffes/
  8. The recent armed attack on union organiser Moisés Sánchez and his brother, has been condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the International Labor Rights Forum.

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