Improving and increasing women’s employment on banana plantations in Ghana

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Following the success of our programme to educate and empower workers on plantations in Ghana, Compagnie Fruitière, the largest banana producer in Ghana, has partnered with Banana Link to tackle the disproportionately low levels of women’s employment on their subsidiary Golden Exotics Ltd (GEL).  
Banana Link and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) facilitated workshops in Ghana in January with participants from Fairtrade Africa, the trade unions, the General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana (GAWU) and the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), the Fairtrade premium committee at GEL and GEL management, to devise an action to plan to improve and increase women’s employment at the plantation. 
Workshop participants were responding to the findings of independent research into both the barriers to women’s employment and the challenges facing women already working at GEL. Interviews were conducted with men, women and leaders in the local community, as well as women workers at GEL, and the neighbouring banana plantation, Volta River Estates Limited (VREL). 
The first of the workshops was for GEL management, including their Managing Director, Olivier Chassang, and Compagnie Fruitière's Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Christelle Lasme, and the second was for workers’ representatives. The third and final workshop then brought both groups together, to collectively discuss and agree priorities for improving women’s employment. 
The priorities agreed on included: 
    • exploring task rotation to reduce repetitive strain injuries;
    • an outreach programme involving women workers to raise awareness of work opportunities at GEL;
    • consultation with and empowerment of women to be actively engaged in Collective Bargaining;
    • and a gendered review of plantation tasks. 
The workshop also agreed the composition of an Advisory Committee, which would take forward activities to implement these initiatives, consisting of union representatives, women workers, IUF, Fairtrade Africa and management. 
Adwoa Sakyi, the IUF Africa Women's Project Coordinator explains in this video a little about the barriers to women working on banana farms, and her hopes for the new project in increasing  women's employment. 
GEL is currently expanding its organic banana production which, because of the absence of agro-chemicals, presents less of a risk to women’s health, particularly new and expectant mothers. This presents an opportunity to attract more women to work on the plantation, while GEL has already been improving working conditions for women, including the provision of separate changing rooms for women workers. In January, Banana Link visited a packhouse managed by a woman supervisor and saw the support she was providing for a number of pregnant workers, offering them a range of tasks to alternate between, including those that enabled them to work sitting down.
The possibility to share learning from other banana producing regions is also being explored, through the IUF and the World Banana Forum, and through Compagnie Fruitière’s subsidiaries in Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. 
A meeting has already taken place between the IUF and COLSIBA (the Co-ordinating body for Latin American banana unions) to share learning on women’s Occupational Health & safety needs, the COLSIBA, IUF and Chiquita pilot project in Panama aimed at increasing the number of women in the workforce in the banana industry, and COLSIBA’s Collective Bargaining Strategy
We are very happy to be working with companies that have so openly and proactively engaged with their workers and their unions to identify how to improve working conditions for women and increase the opportunity for local women to secure Decent Work’ - Jacqui Mackay, Banana Link