Unions break off dialogue with Rainforest Alliance over labour rights

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Unions representing plantation workers on banana and pineapple plantations in Costa Rica have broken off dialogue with the certification body Rainforest Alliance over their failure to tackle the violation of labour rights on some certified plantations. 
 
Banana Link has previously highlighted the lack of respect for the right of workers to join an independent trade union on Rainforest certified plantations, in our 2016 report, Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards? The report called on Rainforest to engage with unions in the banana sector by reaching out to local unions to discuss their concerns. 
 
In March 2018, Banana Link, the Co-ordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA) and other members of the European Network of Banana & other Agro-industrial Product Action Network (EUROBAN), directly raised our continued concerns about the need to ensure union freedom on certified plantations, and in particular for auditors to have the capacity to recognise and understand this. Rainforest Alliance subsequently entered into dialogue with the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Plantaciones Agricolas (SITRAP) which represents tropical fruit workers in Costa Rica, along with the Coordinating body of Costa Rican banana and pineapple workers unions (COSIBA CR) and COLSIBA.  
 
However, following the latest in a series of meetings with Rainforest, these trade union organisations have now informed Rainforest that they see little purpose in continuing dialogue while the certifier fails to act on the persecution of trade unions on certified plantations. 
 
The unions have told Rainforest that:
 
“As you know, for many years we have been expressing our displeasure because Rainforest Alliance and its NEPCon Auditing Agencies, and CERES, have been certifying banana and pineapple companies where there is a continuing high level of union persecution and discrimination. At the same time the companies promote and finance other forms of non-union labour representation, that do not meet the requirements of Costa Rican labour legislation or the ILO requirements on representative parties to collective bargaining. This is in clear violation of both the law and Rainforest’s own rules.
 
Rainforest had made a number of commitments to the unions in December of 2018, among which was a commitment that when an audit was to be carried out on a certified plantation, the auditing agencies would contact the unions to hold a pre-meeting and then to coordinate a meeting with unionised workers, to receive their testimony about the labour rights situation on the plantation. 
 
However, those commitments have not been fulfilled by Rainforest and its auditing agencies on farms where SITRAP has members. It has not even invited the union to meetings prior to undertaking an audit and much less met with the unionised workers in coordination with SITRAP.  There is also a complaint made against Standard Fruit Company by the unions in COSIBA CR over violations of labour and trade union rights; to date, though, Rainforest has again failed to live up to its commitment to the unions made in December 2018. 
 
Rainforest Alliance certification has not seen any improvement concerning the respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining on certified plantations.
 
We do not, therefore, see fit to continue dialogue with you as long as you show no willingness to verify respect for labour rights on plantations nor suspend the certification to companies failing to respect labour rights. “ 
 
Banana Link understand that one of the auditing firms has even acknowledged that they do not believe that sustainability criteria includes labour rights. As we believe that the freedom to join a union and bargain collectively for wages and conditions must be at the heart of any work towards sustainability in global value chains, Banana Link will be encouraging industry stakeholders to review whether Rainforest Alliance certification is an effective or meaningful commitment to sustainability.