“Fyffes is an arrogant and authoritarian company”

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From January 23 through 25, an international mission formed by several international organizations, including the IUF, visited Honduras with the aim of verifying reports of serious violations of workers’, union and human rights committed against women employed by the melon companies owned by Fyffes, an Irish fruit multinational corporation. La Rel spoke with Alistair Smith, international coordinator of the NGO Banana Link, to learn about the outcome of the mission.

What is your assessment of this visit to southern Honduras?

Very positive. We met with the organized workers of the melon companies owned by Fyffes, with social and labor organizations that support these workers’ struggle, and with the labor minister, Carlos Madero.

All of these meetings were held in an atmosphere of open dialogue, in stark contrast to the closed attitude of the Fyffes subsidiaries in Honduras.

We are dealing with a multinational corporation that not only keeps its workers in poverty, but also displays a complete lack of responsibility when it comes to the need for dialogue between the parties.

We also have to point out that the labor authorities have failed to take a clear stand in the performance of their duties.

What kind of problems have you found?

While it’s true that the authorities have done a good job at the regional level, conducting rigorous inspections that have revealed a number of violations, these efforts have been undermined by the authorities at the central level.

Unfortunately, the lobby of large agroindustrial producers from southern Honduras is strong enough to influence the decisions of public officers and distort reality. The situation is further aggravated by weak institutions in a context that is in itself complex.

However, in our meeting with Minister Madero he promised to convene the parties to discuss the matter, and we see this commitment as a major development and a concrete result of our mission.
 
Now, with the support of the national organizations that are accompanying this process, we will make sure he keeps his promise.
 
How is worker morale?
It has been remarkable to see how the workers who were rehired for the new melon season are not backing down on their demands, and at the same time they continue to stand in solidarity with the 35 workers, both men and women, who were left out of a job and are demanding that they be rehired.
 
There are also new people who want to join the subdivision of the Union of Agroindustry and Related Industry Workers (STAS), even with all the difficulties faced and the very harsh conditions they are in.
 
We mustn’t forget that there is an ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras, with constant threats to the physical integrity of anyone who engages in union activities and advocates for rights.
 
To give just an example, STAS and Festagro union leaders have received threats and a fellow union member had to leave the area for some time because her life was in danger.

The rehiring was important, but the working conditions have not changed much…

That is no doubt a significant result and it was obtained thanks to the union’s struggle, to national and international solidarity and to the pressure put on Fyffes. The workers have been empowered and they want to continue organizing and training.

Unfortunately we found that these companies continue to violate rights and that the workers are still vulnerable, facing extremely harsh conditions.
 
What Fyffes is doing is unacceptable. It is an arrogant and authoritarian company that makes a mockery of its workers and their rights.

An international campaign was launched a few days ago. Could you tell us what it’s about?

The company’s attitude left us no alternatives, so we decided to organize the international campaign “Freedom and fairness for Fyffes workers,” coordinated by Banana Link and the IUF, which has already launched an Act Now appeal.

We hope we can sit down soon with the future new owners of the Fyffes brand, the Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo. What we’ve heard so far from the new owners has been encouraging and we hope they come with a better attitude and start making changes.

What’s next?

We’re going to remain on alert and we’ll be in contact at all times with STAS and Festagro. The workers here know they are not alone and that there are thousands of people around the world who are following their situation.

We are dealing with a multinational corporation that not only keeps its workers in poverty, but also displays a complete lack of responsibility when it comes to the need for dialogue between the parties.
 
We also have to point out that the labor authorities have failed to take a clear stand in the performance of their duties.
 
Read more about how you can support the Freedom & Fairness for Fyffes workers! campaign here
Photos: Giorgio Trucchi