Momentum for change in the Dominican banana industry

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The Dominican Republic is the world’s largest exporter of organic bananas and the second biggest supplier to the UK of our favourite fruit. Two thirds of banana workers in the country are migrants from neighbouring Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, and it is estimated that 90% of these are illegal, without access to national social security. At about US$6.50 a day, Haitians earn substantially less than Dominican workers and only enough to provide them with one meal of rice and beans a day.
 
For many years almost nobody either inside or outside the Dominican Republic has seemed willing to address the issues facing Haitian but this situation could be set to change. A recent article in the Ecologist magazine ‘Behind the Label: how fair are organic and fair-trade bananas?’ highlighted the precarious conditions faced by banana workers in the Dominican Republic where 25% of production is certified Fairtrade.

However, as a result of pressure from trade unions, small farmers’ organisations and labour rights’ NGOs a proactive role is being taken by some employers and most notably the Fairtrade International in trying to drive the necessary momentum for change – as described in a recent article by Fairtrade International ‘Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic: A need for change’.

There is a need to galvanise the industry, civil society and the media to join in requesting greater legal protection for Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic. Fairtrade International and Banana Link believe that this is more urgent than ever, because of moves to enforce legislation that requires employers to regularise their illegal employees.

“This legislation (Law 285-04) is not new but the political will to implement this law and sanction those who do not comply with it is. This is potentially very good news, but if employers fail to comply and ensure their workers have legal status, or if family members of regularised workers are not included, then thousands of Haitian migrant workers could be forcibly deported.” Alistair Smith, International Coordinator of Banana Link.

There is also the problem that many Haitians do not have their birth certificates. However, the hope is that the involvement of local trade unions, Haitian associations and UN organisations like the International Organisation of Migration and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will ensure that the government will be flexible in its enforcement strategy and not simply send people back across the border into abject poverty.

For more information:

Behind the Label: how fair are organic and fair-trade bananas?, Ecologist Magazine, 28th May 2012

Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic: A need for change, FLO, 29 May 2012

Dominican Republic to require migrant work permits, The Associated Press, 1st June 2012