The UK Government's Ethical Trading Initiative announced earlier this month that Fyffes suspension from the ETI as a result of a complaint from Banana Link and the International Unuion of Foodworkers (IUF) would remain in force, while discussions between Fyffes and the IUF continued.
In the meantime, we have continued to receive reports of anti-trade union activities and health & safety violations at Fyffes subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras.
Anexco (Costa Rica)
Costa Rican trade union SINTRAPEM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores/as del Sector Privado Empresarial) and union co-ordinating body COSIBACR reported earlier this month that anti-union harassment and discrimination is continuing, along with maintained health and safety issues. This is further to ongoing anti-union activities reported in September last year.
Health of workers in the work environment
The company recently sent employees to work in areas where phosphorus had been applied, in contravention of the prescribed re-entry period for fields treated with phosphorus, resulting in the poisoning of a woman worker (pictured left on admission to hospital) on January 17, 2018. She ended up in a coma in the City Hospital in Quesada for several days. Despite the seriousness of the matter, the Anexco management have not investigated the matter, or disciplined those responsible.
Damage to the working and surrounding environment
When pineapple plants lose their useful life, Anexco applies chemical burners to the whole area, damaging the ecosystem and contaminating the workers. They apply the chemicals indiscriminately, violating product guidelines that it not be applied without a guarantee that nobody is working in the application area.
Damage to surrounding wetlands has also been reported, which you can read about here (in Spanish) - http://elperiodicocr.com/pinera-anexco-invade-areas-de-proteccion-y-humedales-senalan-vecinos-de-zona-norte/
A recent delegation from Honduran trade union Festagro and the Danish trade union 3F visted Choluteca in Honduras to speak to workers at Fyffes subsidiary Suragroh and their union representatives from STAS.
They reported that:
The interviewed workers reported that there have been some improvements to working conditions, for example: salaries have increased slightly, but even so they do not reach minimum wage level, drinking water has been improved and some tables have been installed to allow field workers to have lunch, and abuse is decreasing, although threats towards the trade union continue. However, three women workers have been told they are not allowed to wear gloves to handle fruit, given that they could damage the melons. This has resulted in damage to their hands because melon skin is rough and contains chemicals.
Photo: Surogroh refuses to let workers wear gloves and also refuses to provide them with sun protection materials, leaving workers to use their clothes to reduce the solar impact on the skin
Workers also reported that in order to be hired they had to put their name, identity number and signature on a document, which according to Anexco managers, meant they were resigning their membership of their union, STAS. Union members have also been threatened that they will not be hired again if they attend union meetings, while three workers reported that Anexco managers had told them that they would not get work during the next season because they had spoken with STAS representatives asking for protection, given that they needed the work to support their families.
The company has taken away transportation services to and from work for all workers, telling them they have to hire private transportation. In the area of Permuta village, the workers have to pay for their bus fares of 100 Lempiras per month, while in the village of Chaguites and its surroundings workers have no bus service and now have to walk a 16km return journey each day. This means they are forced to get up at 3 am and leave at 4 am in order to be at work at 6 am. The workers believe this to be an attempt to force union members to resign.
For those workers now having to pay for transport to work, many workers’ children will not be going to school this year because the workers need to pay for the bus that transports them to the plantations instead of affording the school fees which the state no longer covers.
Two women were interviewed from the group of women workers poisoned in December 2017. They confirmed that 13 women were poisoned and this happened at 6am at the start of work, on a plot where the red danger flag was poorly positioned. Some women fainted, other vomited and others lost feeling and movement in parts of their body. They were taken to an Suragroh contracted clinic were given an injection, some blood serum and medication and they returned home on foot the same day. The four women who were most affected were given 3 days’ rest and the others were given only one day, all without pay. Given that they did not go to an independent medical centre they have not had a diagnosis or medical tests.
Due to this poisoning some women suffered swelling of the face, one woman had swelling of the throat, while others have had sustained dizziness and feel faint when doing any activity. Beforehand they had not suffered from anything like this and, despite this, they continue to work in order not to be fired or have their wages reduced.
They also said that when the Ministry of Labour officials visited the plantation to investigate, they spoke only to supervisors and administrative managers, and not any of the workers affected. They also say the company offered the workers a deal with a guaranteed one month of work if they remained silent, meaning they would earn more money for not reporting the incident.
Photo: some of the workers denied work at Suragroh because of union membership.
Statement from Fyffes (20 March 2018)
Fyffes disputes the accuracy of statements made in this post, which are misleading for Banana Link readers. The company was not consulted or requested to provide current and objective information that would have led to a more accurate coverage of the matters discussed in the article. Fyffes welcomdes a recent commitment from Banana Link to consult in advance of publication of any articles which should help improve future coverage.
Fyffes is committed to strengthening communications with all its key stakeholders, including workers. As part of its further committment to respecting workers rights, the company recognises that maintaining ongoing and productive dialogue is critical and remains open to engaging with organisations freely chose by its workforce to represent them.
Fyffes also maintains additional lines of communication with workers, including a tripartite commission and other similar mechanisms through which they can regularly make recommendations and address possible grievances. Maintaining a safe working environment and contributing to the wellbeing of its workers and the communities where they reside are among Fyffes core values.