Boycott “Ineffective” Ethical Trading Initiative, says GMB in row over treatment of Fyffes’ workers

Boycott “Ineffective” Ethical Trading Initiative, says GMB in row over treatment of Fyffes’ workers

Ganor Sel
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Fyffes EGM Dublin2017 (hires)-21 - res

Britain’s general union GMB has branded the Ethical Trading Initiative a “smokescreen not worth the paper it’s printed on” in the Fyffes row over alleged bullying, abuse and exploitation 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.

Following the sale of Fyffes to Japanese multinational, Sumitomo, a GMB delegation visited Costa Rica and Honduras to support workers 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 guaranteeing the right of workers to form and join trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining.

However, GMB international officer Bert Schouwenburg says that contrary to the statements expressed in Mr McCann’s letter, Fyffes workers are routinely sacked and blacklisted for daring to stand 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.”

Earlier in January when Fyffes’ shareholders met in Dublin to discuss the Sumitomo takeover deal, the GMB joined forces with the International Union of Foodworkers and campaign group Banana Link, to protest outside the building where the meeting was taking place.

And, last week a global alliance of civil society organisations and trade unions also called on Fyffes to implement a company-wide policy protecting worker rights, as the deadline approaches for the multinational to submit an “improvement plan” to the ETI.

The groups claim people employed in Central America are routinely bullied, abused and deprived of their entitlements to the legal minimum wage and a safe working environment.

In Honduras, the local trade union organiser has been forced into internal exile after her safety could not be guaranteed and her colleague received a death threat, according to the GMB.

The GMB delegation also visited Costa Rica to meet with the vice minister of labour. During this visit 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.

PBUK asked the ETI for its reaction to the claims.

“ETI 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,” a spokesperson said.

The ETI is working through a process following a complaint (which was upheld) made by ETI members, the International Union of Farmworkers and BananaLink. Fyffes has until February 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. 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.”

“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.”

If Fyffes response (by Friday) is not deemed acceptable, ETI will embark on disciplinary proceedings.

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