In the framework of efforts by the international Freedom & Fairness for Fyffes Workers campaign to persuade multinational fruit company Fyffes to respect freedom of association and other workers’ rights in its own farms and in its direct supply chains, Banana Link has received evidence of ongoing anti-union activities in Costa Rican banana and pineapple plantations producing Fyffes brand fruit. The company was notified of issues in their Costa Rican banana operations back in mid-2019, whilst issues in their pineapple subsidiary date back several years.
Trade unions – SINTRAPEM and SITRAP – report evidence of anti-union activities and related discriminatory practices in two Fyffes owned plantations, as well as in a farm that supplies the company with Fyffes brand bananas. We set out a summary of the allegations below:
Ananas Export Company (ANEXCO): pineapple producing subsidiary
- Failure to respect the fundamental human right of workers to join a trade union of their choice.
- Sacking and rehiring of trade union members on worse terms and refusing to deduct their union fees from the pay-roll.
- Firing and rehiring of a group of packhouse workers with a 40% cut in their piece rate, without explanation, but presumed to be because some of them are union members.
- Cutting piece rates for teams doing digging because there was a group of union members among the team.
- Refused to deduct union fees from SINTRAPEM members after rehiring them on the grounds that they had to pass their three-month trial period again.
- Union members dismissed for unproven faults or moved from their usual jobs to less well paid roles.
- Union members facing obstacles to having workplace accidents recognised as such and therefore not accessing appropriate medical attention.
- Orders for changes in work arrangements affecting union members coming from HR and Production Managers who are inaccessible to workers.
- Many recommendations of the 2016 report on labour rights abuses at Fyffes commissioned by the Ethical trading Initiative (ETI) have not been implemented, inlcuding the lack of grievance mechanisms in place on site. (Fyffes were subsequently expelled from the ETI in March 2019).
Frutas de Escocia (also known as Finca Esmeralda): banana producing subsidiary
- Failure to respect the fundamental human right of workers to join a trade union of their choice and hold meetings.
- Refusal by the company to post a notice on information boards in the workplace confirming their support for Freedom of Association and their commitment not to impede this freedom by inciting workers to renounce their union membership.
- Refusal to allow the union to have its own noticeboard in the workplace.
- Unreasonable impediments to free access by trade union representatives to meet with their members and conduct legitimate union business inside the plantation.
- Non-respect of the right of trade union representatives to be given time off to attend trade union activities and be paid their average daily wage.
- Company insistence that trade union delegates who are paid time to do their work should be remunerated at minimum rather than average wage.
- Constant stalling by management over the union’s attempts to establish a permanent dialogue mechanism through which grievances can be channelled and resolved.
Jardin del Tigre S.A. – banana company selling Fyffes brand bananas
This nationally owned company is a major supplier of bananas for Fyffes. Very recent allegations raised with the company include:
- The workplace being in a state of default with its statutory contributions to the social security system (CCSS) so that employees are affected when it comes to receiving medical care.
- In some cases workers are obliged to work more than eight hours a day continuously and what they earn at the end of the day is less than the legal minimum wage.
- Aerial spraying of fungicide is carried out with the workers working in the field, so they are being exposed to those chemicals that are harmful to health.
- The company is using contractors that hire undocumented migrant workers from Nicaragua, thus avoiding the need affiliate them to the social security system and respect their rights to paid holidays, bonuses, unemployment benefits, etc.
- Failure to make severance payments, Christmas bonuses, holiday pay and other legally required payments to people who have worked for the company for up to three years continuously.
- The company takes reprisals against people who make claims about their labour rights by moving them to worse paid roles etc.
- Delayed payment of fortnightly wages
- Unfair dismissal of workers who attended a meeting of workers organised by SITRAP on 16th March.
A systemic problem for Fyffes/Sumitomo?
Despite attempts to signal such issues to Fyffes over the last year, Banana Link is concerned that, on the basis of the evidence above, Fyffes continues to fail to understand, respect or pass on to its local management the constitutional and international right of workers to freedom of association.
Wherever the root of the problem really lies, the local management of their subsidiaries and suppliers in Costa Rica are actively attempting to stifle independent trade union activity in their plantations by discriminating directly against workers who choose to exercise their freedom to join the organisation of their choice. What is described above is in clear violation of national and international legislation, despite Fyffes and their Japanese owners’ constant reassurances that they respect the basic right of workers to associate freely.
It was the failure of Fyffes to respect freedom of association and recognise an independent trade union at its melon company in Honduras that was the principal reason for their expulsion from the UK’s Ethical Trading Initiative last year. A report published last month – Fyffes Farms Exposed: The Fight for Justice in the Honduran Melon Fields – by the International Labor Rights Forum, Fair World Project, and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) Latin America Regional Secretariat, with support from 3F International (Danish General Workers’ Union), detailed the long-term, ongoing human and labour rights violations in these plantations in Honduras.
A way forward is always possible
Along with the authors of this report, Banana Link calls on Fyffes/Sumitomo to take responsibility for these repeated violations of human rights and find remedies to a range of injustices at their fruit operations in Costa Rica, Honduras and beyond.
Sumitomo also owns thousands of hectares of banana plantations in the Philippines and Ecuador, operations that it acquired before buying Fyffes in 2016. Indeed, the Sumifru brand has been a market leader for many years in Japan.
A promising step forward was made with the independent trade union (STAS) in Honduras in January 2019, thanks to the influence and intervention of the Japanese owners of the Fyffes brand, only to be frustrated by local Fyffes/Suragroh management in the weeks that followed.
Over a year later, with Fyffes still seeking to buy time before responding to the STAS union’s latest proposal in Honduras, Sumitomo now needs to step up and review it global impact on plantation workers’ rights and develop a decent labour relations strategy covering their fruit operations in Central and South America and the Philippines.
We therefore make a heartfelt May Day appeal to Sumitomo, as the mother company, to commit to a legally-binding, enforceable agreement to uphold workers’ rights with the concerned parties in all operations producing their fruit brands.
Banana Link believes that the company would have very substantial support from a range of stakeholders in the global industry if a clear signal were to be made. For one, our organisation has consistently stated that we stand ready to accompany and encourage any serious moves in this direction.