Pesticides, unfair salaries, exploitation: plantation workers in Ecuador and Costa Rica are grafting in order to produce fresh bananas and pineapples for our supermarket shelves. In our pan-European Lidl campaign, more than 75,000 people demand fair wages, health protection and trade union rights for plantation workers - resulting in first achievements: Two Lidl suppliers are starting to change the conditions on their plantations.
On gigantic plantations in Costa Rica and Ecuador, pineapples and bananas are grown for European supermarket chains. Plantation workers are exploited under scandalous conditions: salaries are mostly below the legal minimum wage, excessive overtime work under extreme weather conditions is standard and employment contracts are mainly short-term or concluded with subcontractors. Freedom or organization is not common here: workers who organize themselves are often dismissed sooner or later.
The permanent use of highly toxic and partly carcinogenic pesticides has severe effects: The workers are on the field during pesticide applications or they have to return to the plantations immediately afterwards. Many of them suffer from nausea, dizziness and skin rashes, not to forget the long-term health effects. In several regions of Costa Rica, the groundwater is already contaminated by pesticides, putting the drinking water supply at risk.
Make Fruit Fair! Campaign shows first achievements
Also the pineapples and bananas of the Lidl supermarket chain are likewise grown on plantations in Ecuador and Costa Rica. A European-wide campaign of the Make Fruit Fair!-network has been advocating for Lidl’s plantation workers: More than 75,000 people request from the supermarket giant Lidl to ensure fair salaries, health protection and respect of trade-union rights on its suppliers’ plantations. With positive impacts: plantation workers already reported some improvements.
In Costa Rica, all workers who are working on the plantation Finca Once, Lidl’s most important pineapple supplier, are receiving the minimum wage now and get paid their overtime. Furthermore, they are no longer supposed to go to the field during the pesticide applications. Only a small part of the workers are employed by a subcontractor now, and even the subcontractor is paying minimum wages and providing social insurance for the workers.
But many problems remain unsolved: up to now the local partner, the trade union UNT, does not have any access to the plantation of Lidl’s supplier Finca Once. Recently, UNT members were sent on holiday under compulsion in order to establish an employee body with a strong employer loyalty. And of course, toxic pesticides are still applied and after the pesticide applications, the workers have to return to the field immediately, when the odor of the pesticides continues to be in the air and the leaves of the pineapples are still moist.
Violation of trade union rights remains central problem
As far as Lidl’s banana supplier Matías in Ecuador is concerned, the situation is found to be similar. Since the beginning of the Lidl campaign, there has been some improvements here as well: re-entry periods after pesticide applications are compiled to more strictly, and all workers have finally received free protective clothing – as regulated by law. But there are some persistent problems here as well: the violation of trade union rights continues to be the core problem. Workers’ organization is a basic condition for the rights enforcement concerning adequate salaries, regular employment and occupational safety. “As long as there is no freedom of organization, the exploitation of the workers is not going to stop”, says Jorge Acosta, one of the spokespersons of the Ecuadorian trade union ASTAC.
There is some slight gleam of hope regarding the freedom of organization: Despite all problems (detailed information to be found in the Oxfam Report “Sweet Fruits. Bitter Truth.”), the Lidl suppliers Finca Once and Matías had been certified with the “Green Frog” of Rainforest Alliance. The label is marketing itself successfully as sustainability guarantor to many supermarkets, even though it neither guarantees organic production nor fair trade. Due to the pressure resulting from the Lidl campaign, Rainforest Alliance representatives met with union members in Costa Rica and Ecuador for the first time in order to get an idea of the hostile situation towards trade unions on pineapple and banana plantations. For the future, it would be desirable that Rainforest Alliance makes the freedom of organization a central prerequisite for the certification of plantations and that the responsible consultants get in touch with unions and their members before awarding the label.
The Make Fruit Fair! network and our partners in Costa Rica and Ecuador are going to stand up to permanently maintain the success that has been achieved on the two plantations and to support further improvements, so that the workers of the pineapple and banana sector will not have to suffer from inhumane working conditions in the future.
Lidl, we keep on watching you!