While the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has recognised Fyffes’ efforts to open up dialogue to address worker treatment issues on its Honduran farms, the fruit multinational has not yet done enough to be reinstated into the scheme.
Allegations surrounding freedom of association, health and safety and unpaid wages have been railed against the company for almost two years now, and the Irish-based group has been suspended from the ETI since May.
ETI management consulted with relevant parties in the lead up to their board meeting on November 23. In this process, Fyffes reported “a number of CSR activities” but the initiative’s board was concerned there was “still not a clear process in place that involved workers’ representatives and employers that could address the underlying dispute”.
For this reason the ETI decided to keep the suspension in place but recognised “positive engagement” had taken place, acknowledging that “in entrenched disputes it can take time to build meaningful dialogue”.
“Creating an environment for normal industrial relations is in the interests of all concerned,” ETI executive director Peter McAllister said in a release.
“ETI therefore encourages all parties to continue their discussions and ensure meaningful negotiation between the workers’ union and management.”
The decision is expected to be revisited at ETI’s next board meeting in January 2018 to further assess progress.
NGO Bananalink and Britain’s National Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB) have been advocating for the rights of works on farms run by Fyffes subsidiaries in Central America, and GMB made more explosive allegations against the group in the wake of the ETI’s November meeting.
GMB alleged wholly owned Honduran subsidiaries of Fyffes had refused to rehire workers for the melon growing season in retaliation for the STAS trade union’s claims against them for unpaid wages and benefits, leaving 1,000 mostly female workers blacklisted with an “uncertain future”.
In a release, GMB international officer Bert Schouwenberg said it was hard to believe Fyffes had not been expelled from the ETI, describing it as “difficult to imagine what you have to do to lose your membership”.
“Not honouring legal entitlements to the minimum wage, holiday pay, school bonds, maternity leave, freedom of association, trade union membership and social security entitlements is clearly no obstacle to being endorsed by the ETI,” Schouwenberg said.
“1,000 workers, mainly women, are being effectively sacked and blacklisted for daring to ask for what their employer is legally obliged to provide,” he said.
“British supermarkets should be looking carefully at their supply chains and telling Fyffes to clean up their act, or we shall be left with little alternative but to consider coming after them as well. This appalling situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
Fyffes is Europe’s leading banana supplier and the top exporter of melons to the US.