By Paul Lievens, Banana Link Communications Officer

Bananas have been part of our diet for thousands of years, and are the most popular fruit in the world, with over 100 billion bananas eaten around the world every year. In the UK, each of us eats on average around 10 kg, or 100 bananas, per year. Grown across the tropical regions of the world, banana export production provides an essential source of income for hundreds of thousands of rural households in developing countries. However, many of the plantation workers who produce our bananas fail to earn a living wage and do not have their labour rights respected, while the intensive use of agrochemicals harms the health of workers and the surrounding environment.

For over twenty years, a small Norwich based organisation – Banana Link – has campaigned to tackle these issues and promote fair and equitable production and trade in tropical fruit based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Founded originally to build links between UK trade unions and banana workers’ organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, our campaigning and advocacy work has grown in its nature and breadth, and we are very proud to have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the lives of banana workers and their communities.

In solidarity with UK trade unions we have done much to challenge the repression of the freedom to organise, to educate workers about their rights and to empower union representatives to collectively bargain for decent work for the men and women that grow the fruit sold in our supermarkets. Below are just a few recent examples of how our work has contributed to strengthening the role of trade unions in representing plantation workers:

Freedom & Fairness for Fyffes Workers

This global campaign was launched in response to evidence of very serious violations of core labour standards at Fyffes’ subsidiary plantations in Costa Rica and Honduras, including the failure to pay minimum wages and social insurance; exposure of workers to hazardous agrochemicals; blocking collective bargaining processes and the failure to respect freedom of association including threats, harassment and sacking of union members.

The campaign, which was supported by over 41,000 signatories, called upon the company to recognise unions on their plantations, to enter into collective bargaining over working conditions, and to respect the rights of workers throughout its global supply chains. The campaign has been supported by trade unions and civil society organisations across Europe and North America, and has led, at the time of writing, to the company engaging in negotiations with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) to agree a framework for engagement between local unions and management.

Education and empowerment programme in West Africa

Between 2013 and 2016, Banana Link worked with local unions in Cameroon and Ghana to deliver an education programme for trade union representatives and workers to help them understand their rights and negotiate better wages and working conditions. The programme delivered measurable benefits for workers, including negotiating better pay and working hours, improved provision of personal protective equipment, a reduction in illness and accidents, and huge increase in workers’ awareness of their rights.

Facilitating union representation at the World Banana Forum

In autumn 2017, we facilitated the participation of 30 representatives of African and Latin American unions, representing over 600,000 workers, at the conference of the World Banana Forum (WBF). The WBF brings together all industry stakeholders, including producers, governments and trade unions, to work together to achieve consensus on best practice. As a result, final conference proposals included commitments to a new approach to industrial relations that treats workers and their unions with dignity and respect, and a fairer distribution of value along the supply chain that enables workers to secure a living wage.

Women in the banana trade

“Improving the situation for women is a difficult task, but an important one. We need to focus on the gender-based discrimination at home and in the workplace and on maternity rights to allow the women who have the courage to become workers and producers to also become mothers.” – Adela Torres, Secretary General, SINTRAINAGRO, Colombia

Gender equity is a major focus of Banana Link’s work. Women working in banana production are increasingly struggling against instability, inequality and discrimination in the workplace. Often working 14 hours a day without overtime pay, women can be sacked for being pregnant, often having no ante or post-natal maternity rights. Many suffer sexual harassment in the workplace, and high levels of toxic agrochemical use put pregnant women and nursing mothers at high risk of negative health impacts for themselves and their children.

Our work to address gender discrimination ranges from providing support and resources to trade union women’s’ officers in Latin America, to the above-mentioned training programme in Africa, which empowered women trade union representatives, to global initiatives to improve working conditions for women throughout the industry. Among these many activities, Banana Link coordinated the WBF multi-stakeholder strategy meeting on Gender Equity, which brought together around 100 delegates to share expertise about and develop proposals to achieve gender equity in the industry. This included developing proposals of how to end the gender pay gap, reduce sexual harassment and gender-based violence and undertaking health and safety risk assessments for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

At ground level, Banana Link are also, for example, working with the IUF and Fairtrade producer, Compagnie Fruitière, to find practical ways to improve and increase women’s employment on their Fairtrade Ghanaian plantation where women constitute only 8% of the workforce.

If you’d like to be involved in Banana Link’s work, you can sign up for our newsletter or support our Union-to-Union programme.

Featured image courtesy of Banana Link

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