Blog: Dean BestFyffes and Ethical Trading Initiative under scrutiny

Dean Best | 12 February 2016

Fyffes, the global produce supplier, is in the spotlight over union claims of worker abuse on plantations in Central America.

The UK's GMB union has alleged 14 female workers on a melon plantation in Honduras had to go to hospital in December after being "poisoned by the noxious chemicals they were forced to handle without any personal protective equipment".

The union says the incident is an example "of sustained and repeated violations of human rights" on Fyffes' plantations in Honduras and Costa Rica.

Bert Schouwenburg, an international officer at the GMB, said: "Fyffes is an appalling employer that cares nothing for its workers who toil in boiling heat to produce the fruit that makes the company's profits. They have no respect for domestic or international law governing workers’ rights and must be brought to book."

The GMB has accused Fyffes of a series of other violations. The union says workers have reported Fyffes do not follow rules on the minimum wage, overtime payments, public holidays or on double time on Sundays.

The union claims Fyffes also illegally charges workers for transport to fields and, when they formed a branch of a local agricultural workers union last month, four members were "abducted, threatened and held incommunicado for a day until they renounced their membership".

In Costa Rica, a Fyffes pineapple subsidiary has embarked on "a purge" of union members on its farms, the GMB alleges. Twelve workers, the union adds, are taking the company to court.

The statement from the GMB, issued yesterday (11 February), was strong stuff, although when approached by just-food, Fyffes said it would not comment.

The GMB also had The Ethical Trading Initiative, a UK-based organisation set up to support ethical practices in supply chains, in its sights. Fyffes is a member of the ETI, which is a forum between companies, trade unions and NGOs. The GMB wants Fyffes out of the organisation.

"If the Ethical Trading Initiative fails to take action against Fyffes given this appalling record, it will confirm suspicions that it is little more than a talking shop which does not merit UK taxpayers' support," Schouwenburg said. "Fyffes should immediately be expelled."

The ETI said it first became aware of the issues on Wednesday. It said it understands the NGO Banana Link has "recently raised concerns" with Fyffes on behalf of the workers on the Honduras melon plantation. However, the ETI said: "No party has escalated the allegations to a formal process whereby the ETI's secretariat steps in to take action."

Peter McAllister, the ETI’s executive director, added: "We take all allegations very seriously. When issues are raised and there are local processes in place such as mediation and negotiation agreements, members are expected to work together and use those processes to get resolution.

"We understand that there are local processes in place in this case. Once local processes have been followed, and if parties are unable to reach agreement, then members can raise this formally with the ETI and we take action according to our established procedures."

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