The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has suspended tropical fruit company Fyffes following concerns over worker rights at its Honduran operations.
The Ireland-based company, which was recently acquired by Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, now has just under 90 days to reach a “mutually agreeable framework for engagement” with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), or it will be expelled from ETI’s membership.
The ETI had previously said it was working through a process following what it described as a “substantive” complaint made by the IUF and BananaLink, and had requested Fyffes provide a “detailed and timebound action plan”.
Fyffes has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The board met on May 4 and considered the recommendation made by its sub-committee that reviewed the company in the context of its membership obligations.
“A recommendation to the ETI Board as a whole that Fyffes’ membership of the ETI is suspended, and that Fyffes is required to work with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) to reach a mutually agreeable framework for engagement,” it said in a statement.
“Failure to do this within an agreed timeframe of 90 days would result in expulsion from ETI membership.”
The ETI said its board had decided to uphold the recommendation of the sub-committee in its entirety.
Executive director Peter McAllister highlighted that “labour rights issues can be complex”, adding that “with many different parties, and often across different cultures, there is frequently room for different interpretations and genuine ambiguity.”
“However, there is one constant for ETI that has been at the heart of the dispute between IUF, Banana Link and Fyffes with respect to the Suragroh operations in Honduras; workers should be able to enjoy their right to be represented by those they choose and so engage with management,” he said.
“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.
“This can include addressing health and safety issues, avoiding child or forced labour and negotiating for appropriate wages while contributing to a well-run and profitable business.”
He went on to say that while the decision to suspend Fyffes from ETI “has not been taken lightly”, it offers “a focused and time-bound opening to grasp the opportunity that such engagement represents.”
“The aim is not only to resolve short term issues but build a better business through developing mature systems of industrial relations,” he said.
“ETI urges all parties to take this opportunity for constructive engagement and we will be offering assistance throughout the process.”