Blog: Dean BestFyffes to face Ethical Trading Initiative disciplinary committee

Dean Best | 17 February 2017

A year after union officials alleged Fyffes abused workers on plantations in Central America - and called on the produce giant to be kicked out of the Ethical Trading Initiative forum - the company is set to go before a committee at the UK-based organisation.

Last February, we reported on claims from UK union the GMB, which 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 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.

The ETI attempted mediation - which it says failed - then moved the matter to its complaints process. Fyffes was asked to come up with what the ETI calls "a remediation plan", which the organisation judged "failed to fully address the issues raised". The organisation says Fyffes had until 3 February "to respond with a detailed and time-bound action plan". Instead, Fyffes invoked its right as a member of the ETI to present its case on the dispute to a tripartite disciplinary committee drawn from the organisation's board.

Approached by just-food, Fyffes, which this week saw its sale to Japanese banana-to-transportation conglomerate Sumitomo Corp. go through, declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the ETI declined to comment on what "a remediation plan" would entail, the contents of Fyffes' plan and on then the "detailed and time-bound action plan" it had then sought from the produce giant.

However, the spokesperson added: "We are currently following our membership obligation procedure. That itself is part of a process which started last April when we received an official complaint about working conditions on a Fyffes melon plantation. I should also stress that the membership obligation procedure only refers to that issue, nothing else.

"While it will take time to organise, we expect that the subcommittee will meet sooner rather later. However, it would be wrong of us to second-guess any outcome, as that’s for the subcommittee to decide. Ultimately, what’s important to ETI is to ensure that we are scrupulously fair to all parties involved, while not forgetting the impact on the plantation workers who lie at the heart of this dispute."

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