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Ecuador: Noboa, a saga of union repression and tax avoidance

In September Lorena Burgos Anangono was fired from the Noboa owned Los Alamos plantation because she complained about being paid below the legal minimum wage. Noboa, producer of Bonita brand bananas, is the world’s fifth biggest banana company and a systematic abuser of trade union rights.

Fenacle, COLSIBA and their international partners are calling on Noboa to take responsibility for its unacceptable practices and enter into serious social dialogue with the Los Alamos workers’ union and the rural workers’ federation Fenacle.

Official opening of the SITBA office

A decade of trade union rights violations at Los Alamos Over the past ten years, Noboa has shown an intolerant and repressive attitude towards Los Alamos plantation workers, using threats, intimidation and even brutal repression to prevent them from organising to defend and exercise their rights.

In 2002 workers decided to organise and registered a series of trade unions in the different labour sub-contracting companies who employed them. On 16th May, when workers walked off the job over the company’s attempts to break or buy off the unions, Noboa responded with armed violence, injuring 19 of its own employees. Mauro Romero lost his right leg in the attack and has only survived by selling lottery tickets on the street. The unions had been busted. But despite continuing humiliation and rights violations, Los Alamos workers pursued their efforts to organise.

In 2011, workers who refused to yield to the company’s pressure formed a new trade union and Lester Freire was voted General Secretary. When he was arbitrarily fired in December, Fenacle initiated a long-winded process to secure the legal registration, in April 2012, of the Hacienda Los Alamos Workers’ Union (SITBA) by the Labour Ministry, with Lester Freire inscribed as its legitimate General Secretary.

In parallel, a meeting took place between Fenacle and Noboa in the margins of the World Banana Forum second global conference on 29th February 2012 to address the situation in Los Alamos. Despite a commitment to consult senior management about reinstating Freire and initiating a serious dialogue with Fenacle, Noboa justified the sacking of the SITBA General Secertary, sacked dozens of other members, all under the pretext of restructuring forced by the cmpany’s financial problems. To add insult to injury, the company proposed that Freire should seek work with local labour sub-contractors and use the skills he had developed at Los Alamos over 13 years!

Despite international protest Lester Freire has not been reinstated and workers such as Lorena Burgos Anangono continue to lose their jobs simply because they stand up for their rights. The situation at Los Alamos is not the only evidence of the company’s union-busting culture. In the Los Ríos province, ten workers at the Bejucal plantation, also owned by the Noboa Group, were fired in September for forming a trade union.

The company’s arrogance in not taking dialogue and negotiation seriously has to stop.

A champion of serial tax avoidance Noboa is not just violating workers’ rights in its plantations, but is also failing to comply with its tax obligations. While the company is owned by one of the richest families in Ecuador, the government has recently provided compelling evidence of ‘voluntary misconduct’ regarding tax payments. The Inland Revenue Service (SRI) estimates that the company owes USD 99 million in unpaid corporation tax and at least another USD 30 million in unpaid profit-sharing bonuses to its employees.

Fenacle and Colsiba therefore call for your solidarity with the Los Alamos workers by urging Noboa to:

  • Initiate a serious dialogue with the legitimate trade union at its Los Alamos plantation - which has the majority of the workforce in its membership - alongside Fenacle.

  • Reinstate all the workers fired in Bejucal and Los Alamos plantations including Lester Freire as a welder in the plantation workshop, with full back-pay since their sackings.

All emails will be sent to Bonita (the brand under which Noboa bananas are sold) and some of the retailers selling Bonita in Europe.

Send urgent appeal!

Urgent action letter

Dear Mr. Eric Crisman,

I have been informed by Fenacle, COLSIBA and Banana Link that the Noboa group, which produces Bonita brand bananas, continues to repress trade unions in Ecuador.

I am extremely concerned by the systematic workers rights violations found in Noboa’s plantations in Ecuador, and in particular by the situation of the workers in the plantations of Los Alamos and Bejucal who have been fired for organizing to defend and exercise their rights.

As the corporate responsibility and public affairs manager with Pacific Fruit, we ask you to urge Noboa to:

  • Initiate a serious dialogue with the legitimate trade union at its Los Alamos plantation - which has the majority of the workforce in its membership - alongside Fenacle.
  • Reinstate all the workers fired in Bejucal and Los Alamos plantations including Lester Freire as a welder in the plantation workshop, with full back-pay since their sackings.

Sincerely,

Solidarity letter to Fenacle

Estimado-a-s amigos y amigas de la FENACLE,

Fui informado/a por Banana Link sobre los recientes despidos injustificados de lo/as trabajadores de las haciendas Bejucal y Los Alamos que pertenecen al Grupo Noboa que continúa llevando a cabo sus actividades anti-sindicales. Apoyo su acción y he enviado una carta al Señor Eric Crisman exhortándole a responder inmediatamente a sus peticiones.

Solidariamente,

In January 2012 a Make Fruit Fair appeal was launched in response to the sacking of Lester Freire Burgos, the newly elected General Secretary of the Los Alamos union, SITBA. Read more.