Fyffes, the billion-dollar fruit company, was just kicked out of the Ethical Trading Initiative, marking another victory—sort of. Farmworkers on Fyffes’ Honduran Suragroh plantation are still waiting for management to bargain with their union. That’s what hasn’t changed. Here’s what has changed since Fair Trade USA revoked Fyffes’ fair trade certification in December of last year.
Fyffes: A Long History of Exploitation
First, a little background. Fyffes is one of those massive multinationals that you’ve probably never heard of, at least in the U.S. But, under the Sol brand, they are the #1 supplier of winter melons to the U.S. market and, under their own brand, the biggest banana supplier in Europe. Fyffes also owns plantations throughout Central America, plantations that have a long history of mistreating and exploiting their workers. Honduran farmworkers and union organizers have been standing up to Fyffes for over a decade now, fighting rampant wage theft, exposure to toxic agrochemicals, and poor working conditions.
Several years ago, farmworkers on Fyffes’ Suragroh plantation came together and organized the independent union STAS. Their goal: to fight for a safe workplace and fair wages. Instead, Fyffes’ local management has retaliated at every turn, firing workers and unleashing a violent campaign of intimidation against organizers. Despite the ongoing labor dispute, in April of 2018, Fair Trade USA went ahead and granted their fair trade seal to melons grown on Fyffes’ Suragroh plantation.
“Charity is Not the Same as Justice”
This winter, nearly 10,000 people sent messages of solidarity to Fair Trade USA, calling on them to decertify Fyffes’ Suragroh plantation. Only then did Fair Trade USA take action, send in inspectors, and, finally, revoke their certification of Fyffes’ fair trade melons. Shortly after that, Fyffes’ management agreed to negotiate with members of the union STAS—an agreement they broke almost immediately.
Instead, Fyffes’ has continued their pattern of anti-union activity. Workers report that instead of rehiring fired union members and coming to the negotiating table as promised, Fyffes has doubled down on their tactics of harassment and intimidation. The company management has formed their own union and organized anti-union demonstrations. One worker was threatened by a human resources manager participating in the demonstration, “We will beat you and leave you pulverized.”
Pressure continues to mount for workers to join the employer-controlled union. And, faced with growing awareness from the rest of the world, Fyffes continues to step up their efforts to put a friendly veneer on their labor abuses, launching a gender equality program to benefit the same workers they continue to exploit. In the words of one of the union’s organizers, “Charity is not the same as justice. The farmworkers want Fyffes to follow the law, not to create programs in order to distract from the company’s obligation to put an end to and remediate labor rights violations…”
Turning the Tide against Unfair Fruit
But the veneer is cracking. Both the Ethical Trading Initiative and Fair Trade USA have ended their relationship with Fyffes. Will this increase pressure on Fyffes to negotiate with STAS, the independent farmworker union, or allow this story to slip away and become just another of the many other stories of exploitation of Central and South American fruit production?
The reality is that neither the Ethical Trading Initiative nor Fair Trade USA was able to follow through on their ambitions to protect and empower workers and make trade more fair or ethical. Indeed, activists have observed that both organizations are doing a better job at creating the appearance of fairness than actually changing the situation on the ground. Fair World Project and others in the fair trade movement have long argued that plantations have no place in the fair trade movement. Unfortunately, this case is an example of just how true that is, and how inadequate an annual audit is to protect workers’ rights.
What does it take to shift the balance of power and allow workers to more effectively negotiate for their rights? Organizing. When workers come together and bargain collectively, they are better positioned to win better working conditions, fair wages, and the health and safety protections that the workers on Fyffes’ Suragroh plantation have been so long denied.
That’s why it’s high time for Fyffes to negotiate with the independent union STAS. Show farmworkers that the world is watching by sharing this post and helping turn the tide against unfair fruit.