Japanese Corporation, Sumitomo, announced recently its intention to sell its 49 percent stake in Philippines banana producer Sumifru, to it’s partner in the joint venture, Thornton Venture Ltd.
The announcement comes at a time when Sumitomo, who last year bought Irish fruit giant Fyffes, is under fire over a labour dispute and rights abuses on its plantations in the Philippines.
At a recent news conference in Tokyo, representatives of the plantation workers’ union, Namasufa, accused Sumifru Philippines Corp. of failing to “regularize” its workers, and of harassment following a strike held in October last year. Paul John Dizon, president of the local labor union Namasufa, and Jamila Seno from the group’s board of directors called for Sumifru to comply with the Philippines’ labour department order that the over 700 workers laid off following the strike be reinstated, and urged Japanese consumers to boycott the banana brand until it resolves the labour dispute.
The affiliate of the major trading company currently employs workers on fixed-term contracts with low wages and no benefits, regardless of how many years they have been with the company, Dizon said.
Despite a Philippines Supreme Court order in 2017, Sumifru has refused to recognize Namasufa as a collective bargaining agent, arguing that a contracting agency is their employer, he said.
The Japanese trading company has been producing bananas in the Philippines since 1970, and produces roughly one-third of all bananas imported to Japan, operates an approximately 2,200-hectare banana plantation and nine packaging plants in Compostela Valley, Mindanao, with a total production capacity of around 19,000 boxes per day. It said the sale of the stake, the cost of which was not disclosed, is expected to be completed by the end of September this year.
At the news conference, Seno spoke of harsh working conditions with long hours and adverse health effects from exposure to chemicals used on the bananas. “The company cares more about the bananas than the workers,” she said.
Dizon and Seno, who had worked at the plantation for five and ten years, respectively, have now been unemployed for more than seven months after their involvement in the strike, but the two said they would fight against the continued harassment of Namasufa members, including the suspected killing of a prominent union member and burning down of property.
“The bananas produced or being sold by Sumifru has the blood of the workers,” he said.
Sumitomo also own plantations in Ecuador that they bought from bankrupt Russian company in 2015.
Watch the Namasufa news conference here: