Fyffes suspended from Ethical Trading Initiative

Fyffes has been suspended from the Ethical Trading Initiative (Flickr/@nelli.es)

Fyffes has been suspended from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) with immediate effect, after an investigation into union claims of workers’ rights abuses in its supply chain.

The fruit giant has 90 days to agree a plan to work with the International Union of Food workers (IUF), representing its workers, or face expulsion from the ETI, according to a statement from the ethics group on May 5.

The ETI’s ultimatum came after it received an official complaint from the IUF and the humanitarian non-governmental organisation Banana Link over alleged Fyffes’ workers right violations in Central America, in April 2016.

ETI executive director Peter McAllister said: “Fyffes’ suspension from ETI, whilst not a decision that has been taken lightly, offers a focused and time-bound opening to grasp the opportunity that such engagement represents. The aim is to not only resolve short-term issues, but also build a better business through developing mature systems of industrial relations.

‘Ensure good working conditions’

“We know from many examples that when workers are properly represented, and can engage with management through a meaningful process of social dialogue, worker representatives are able to help ensure good working conditions.”

Fyffes accepted ETI’s decision, but rejected suggestions it needed to further demonstrate an open approach to legitimate trade union activities.

A Fyffes spokesman said: “In relation to the ETI’s ruling, Fyffes, while having a difference of opinion with the ETI on the matter, is prepared to accept this recommendation.

“Fyffes has no issue engaging with properly constituted unions who act within the legal framework of the country in which they are based, as evidenced by the fact that in a number of our operations there is union representation. The company is a responsible, respected and valued member of the community of Choluteca, Honduras, providing significant employment and supporting many local community activities including schools and health clinics.”

Ensuring workers’ rights

Both Banana Link and the IUF welcomed the ETI’s decision to suspend Fyffes. Both wanted to work with Fyffes to introduce measures for ensuring workers’ rights were respected, they said in a joint statement.

IUF general secretary Ron Oswald said: Fyffes’ new owners – Sumitomo – and the company’s many retailers should seriously reflect on the seriousness of the ETI’s unprecedented action.”

Banana Link’s Jacqui Mackay claimed: “We welcome this action by the ETI, as will the workers at their subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras, who have seen their labour rights consistently violated over recent years.”

Fyffes had been in a long-running dispute with unions over the alleged mistreatment of workers in tropical fruit plantations in Costa Rica and Honduras. Allegations made against Fyffes by the GMB union included claims that 14 women hospitalised from noxious chemical poisoning, 3,000 workers threatened with dismissal if they became unionised, and a machete attack on a union leader’s brother.

GMB international officer Bert Schouwenburg said: “The ETI had no choice but to, belatedly, suspend Fyffes from membership.

“We shall now wait to see if the company are prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations with the IUF.”

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