COLSIBA celebrates 20 years as the international voice of banana workers

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Delegates representing COLSIBA's 70,000 members in nine countries gathered in the Honduran business capital, San Pedro Sula, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the organisation that is seen to represent the united voice of banana plantation and packhouse workers from Guatemala to Peru.

The Latin American banana and agroindustrial workers' union coordinating body was born near San José, Costa Rica, in May 1993, just as the European Union was about to announce its controversial single banana import regime. Since then COLSIBA has played a key role in presenting alternatives to trade policies that exclude any social or environmental dimension, has been at the forefront of advocating fair and alternative trade models and has managed to secure permanent dialogue with the world's leading banana companies.

The agreement between COLSIBA, IUF and Chiquita, signed in Geneva in 2001, was the first of its kind on trade union rights and working conditions in the agricultural sector worldwide. The most recent addition to the agreement – a recent clause committing the company to zero sexual harassment in the plantations it owns as well as in those of its suppliers - is a testament to the pioneering work by women banana workers' leaders in COLSIBA.

To coincide with the 20th anniversary celebrations in Honduras, the COLSIBA women workers' agenda has been reedited and published in leaflet form. It has already been used to secure new clauses covering the specific needs of women workers in several collective bargaining agreements. Current negotiations in Panama, for example, include women negotiators for the first time, whilst in Colombia, where the level of women's employment is particularly low, companies have made commitments to employ more women.

The anniversary celebrations were also addressed by representatives of Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Honduran national producer Guaruma. Unthinkable 20 years ago, when the trade unions from each country were just getting to know each other for the first time, the presence of banana company representatives was welcomed by COLSIBA delegates and certainly helped the event receive wide media coverage.