Banana union leader wins top award

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A woman union leader has won a prestigious award for her struggle to support workers in Honduras supplying bananas to British stores for as little as £5 a day. Iris Munguia, a former banana worker herself, will next month in Brussels receive a Silver Rose prize from SOLIDAR, a network of 56 nongovernmental organisations in over 90 countries that promote social justice in Europe and worldwide. The presentation ceremony on 6 March will coincide with events to mark International Women’s Day.

Members of SOLIDAR in Britain, the not-for-profit cooperative Banana Link and the anti-poverty charity War on Want expressed delight at the award. SOLIDAR secretary general Conny Reuter said: “Iris Munguia embodies what it means to be a SOLIDAR Silver Rose Awards winner. She is a worker who has struggled for more solidarity and social justice, who has paved the way for a whole generation of woman banana workers fighting for the recognition of their rights.”

Women workers in the Latin American banana industry are often victims of sexual harassment and labour discrimination. Iris has campaigned for decades for the rights of workers, particularly women, in the Chiquita packhouse where she worked in La Lima, Honduras. She has helped ensure wages for workers on plantations which recognise collective bargaining are higher - £7 a day – than elsewhere.

Last year Iris was voted in as the first female coordinator of COLSIBA, the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Workers. This represents a major breakthrough within the Latin American trade union movement and a move that no women banana workers would have dreamed possible in previous decades.

Banana Link and War on Want are calling on the British government to ensure that a bill is included in the next Queen’s Speech to create a watchdog in the UK to stop supermarkets bullying their suppliers. They say the regulation of supermarket buyer power is vital to the continuing international struggle of Iris and the plantation workers she represents for decent work and an end to poverty.