A global alliance of civil society organizations and trade unions is calling on Fyffes to implement a company-wide policy protecting worker rights, as the deadline approaches for the multinational to submit an "improvement plan" to the U.K.'s Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).
The campaign is led by U.K.-based not-for-profit cooperative Banana Link, and asks the Ireland-based tropical fruit distributor to "ensure the respect of workers’ rights throughout its supply chains, including the freedom of workers to join an independent trade union."
Fyffes is one of the leading banana importers into Europe, as well as a major marketer of pineapples and melons.
The multinational has faced allegations over recent weeks that its subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras have carried out serious violations of labor rights, including failure to pay minimum wages, exposure of workers to hazardous agrichemicals and harassment and sacking of union members.
A protest was recently held outside a Dublin hotel where a shareholders approved a €751 million (US$798 million) takeover deal by Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation.
The campaign launched on Monday (Jan. 23) is supported by the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA) and the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), and is part of the Make Fruit Fair! campaign, which brings together 19 organizations from across the world.
People are being asked to sign an email to Fyffes chairman David McCann, requesting the company take action on the matter.
In the case of Fyffes' Honduran subsidiary, Suragroh, Banana Link and the IUF have alleged breaches of the ETI Base Code for failure to respect unions, provide a safe workplace and pay living wages.
Banana Link has accused Fyffes of allegedly failing to engage in ETI facilitated mediation to remedy these complaints.
It also claimed the Honduran Labour Inspectorate had found non-payment of minimum wages and other statutory benefits, while a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed allegations that Suragroh failed to pay the minimum wage, among a "lengthy list of other violations."
It added that in 2015 dozens of workers suffered poisoning after they were accidentally dropped off downwind of herbicide and chlorine spraying in an adjoining plot.
Meanwhile, at Costa Rican subsidiary ANEXCO, a pineapple company, Banana Link said "dialogue facilitated by the Costa Rican Ministry of Labour has failed to provide a space in which local unions can negotiate with ANEXCO management and Fyffes, and the local unions report continued harassment and discrimination of union members."
In a statement sent to Fresh Fruit Portal, an ETI spokesperson said she couldn't go into detail on the issue, but confirmed there were concerns over Fyffes' treatment of workers in at least one of the countries where it operates.
"We can confirm that ETI found that the complaint was substantive in the way it evidenced poor treatment of workers [in Fyffes’ Suragroh melon plantation], and that was upheld," she said.
"It was also robust in that it referenced the issues to non-compliance with more than one of ETI’s Base Code of labour standards, to which Fyffes is a signatory.
"Fyffes is therefore now required to put in place a detailed and timebound improvement plan by February 3rd as part of ETI’s membership obligation process."
When approached, Fyffes said: "We reject the allegations and have no further comment to make."
The latest information on the Banana Link/IUF complaint to the ETI is available here.