Britain's Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB) has branded the country's Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) a “smokescreen not worth the paper it’s printed on”, in the Fyffes row over alleged bullying and abuse of workers in Central America.
Describing Fyffes as “gangster capitalists”, GMB officials claim the company is hiding behind the “ineffective” ETI - an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations working to improve the lives of workers around the world.
The GMB is a major British union with more than 600,000 members and, along with U.K.-based non-profit Banana Link, has been drawing attention to conditions allegedly faced by workers at Fyffes’ Anexco pineapple subsidiary in Costa Rica and two melon units in Honduras.
Fyffes has faced allegations over recent weeks that its subsidiaries have carried out serious violations of labor rights, including failure to pay minimum wages, exposure of workers to hazardous agrichemicals and the harassment and sacking of union members.
A protest was recently held outside a Dublin hotel where shareholders approved a €751 million (US$798 million) takeover deal by Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation.
Following the sale, a GMB delegation visited Costa Rica and Honduras to support workers who were allegedly persecuted and bullied.
According to the GMB, while visiting a Fyffes’ pineapple plantation in Santa Rosa, delegates were prevented from entering the premises even though the company had previously agreed to hold a meeting.
A letter from Fyffes’ chairman David McCann was displayed on a notice board at the gatehouse detailing how the Fyffes’ Board of Directors subscribe to the principles of the ETI base code that are founded on International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.
However, GMB international officer Bert Schouwenburg claimed that Fyffes workers were routinely sacked and blacklisted for standing up for their rights.
“Not only is the ETI utterly ineffective when it comes to defending workers’ rights, it actually does a great deal of damage by allowing its corporate members to boast about their supposedly ethical credentials to the public at large when the reality is completely different,” he says.
“It beggars belief that Fyffes’ brand of gangster capitalism is tolerated by the ETI but then they are completely reliant on corporate subscriptions and government hand outs for their existence.
“The ETI acts as a smokescreen and is arguably the worst example of corporate social responsibility propaganda and they have zero credibility. By being part of the ETI, trade unions give the organisation legitimacy that it does not deserve and should have nothing to do with it.”
During the GMB delegation's visit to Costa Rica to meet with the vice minister of labor, they claim they were told that Fyffes had manipulated a conciliation meeting with the ministry, arranged by the ETI, to ensure that no progress would be made.
Asked about these allegations by Fresh Fruit Portal, an ETI spokesperson says the entity "refutes all allegations made by Bert Schouwenburg of the GMB."
"Bert has not been party to the process that Fyffes has been going through under the full oversight of the ETI board, which includes the TUC and other global union federations. Bert is therefore unaware of the efforts we have been making to reach the best outcome for affected workers,” the spokesperson said.
The ETI is working through a process following what it describes as a "substantive" complaint made by its members, the International Union of Farmworkers and BananaLink. Fyffes has until Feb. 3, 2017, to respond with a "detailed and timebound action plan".
“The International Union of Farmworkers and the NGO Banana Link raised a complaint against Fyffes," the spokesperson added.
"As part of our agreed way of working, ETI initially attempted mediation, but that was unsuccessful. Subsequently, ETI upheld aspects of the complaint in relation to non-engagement with worker representatives amongst other charges,
“Fyffes has now entered our Membership Obligation Process, which is a disciplinary stage, and has until February 3 to respond with a timebound and robust action plan.”