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Trade unions

The principles of ‘decent work’ – freedom, equity, security and human dignity - are commonly violated in the banana and pineapple industries. Plantation workers are often denied the right to organise freely into trade unions and thus take collective action to improve their conditions at work.

Why are trade unions important?

Trade unions play a crucial role in the fight against poverty in producing countries by educating workers about their rights and how to use these as a tool tobargain with companies to promote decent work. The majority of banana and pineapple workers are young - below the age of 30 - and have minimal awareness about their rights.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is part of the UN, promotes core international labour standards – on freedom of association and collective bargaining, child labour, forced labour and discrimination – that are enshrined by law in every banana and pineapple producing country.

There are however many challenges - in terms of political will, institutional capacity and resources - to implementing these standards at plantation level. National governments in producer countries value the foreign investment provided by multinational fruit companies and in many countries these companies also have an influential role in political decisions. Workers and trade unions struggle to push cases of labour rights violations through the national justice systems and national labour inspectorates often lack the capacity to support this process.

Why do trade unions need international solidarity?

International solidarity from NGO’s and trade unions in consumer countries can significantly increase the capacity of trade unions in producer countries to represent their members. Acts of solidarity can include financial support (repression and wage levels can mean unions struggle to function on membership subs alone); issuing urgent appeals for consumers to lobby companies and governments in response to acts of severe repression and / or violence; supporting unions to have a stronger voice at national and international levels including meeting with European supermarkets and MEPs; engaging in international awareness campaigns such as ‘Make Fruit Fair’.

Trade unions in producer countries also belong to Global Union Federations. One of these, the IUF (international Union of Food and Allied Workers) facilitated and monitors a tripartite agreement on labour standards between themselves, workers (COLSIBA), and the multinational fruit company (Chiquita).

The freedom to organise

If workers have the strength and freedom to defend their rights and bargain with employers, working conditions and wage levels can be improved to the benefit of workers, their families and local communities. Consumers can in turn be safe in the knowledge that the goods they buy are produced in conditions that are safe and decent and which enable working people to maintain their dignity and a reasonable standard of living.

Life on the plantation

Since 1999, conditions for workers have worsened. Salaries have steadily decreased with many workers now earning less than 50% of a 'living wage'.

— Didier Leiton, Costa Rica —

Did you know that?

The turnover of Fairtrade certified banana sales reached 55,000,000 euros in 2008.

Get involved!

There are many ways of making the lives of people who produce our bananas and pineapples better. Some of them don’t require more than a few clicks of the mouse – you can send an urgent appeal to those who are responsible for the violation of people’s rights or destruction of the environment from your living room or bed. Nothing is easier than talking about our campaign to your friends and family and recommending our website. Fruit stories won’t have happier endings without your help – get involved!

Solutions?

None of these solutions would in isolation solve the problems on banana and pineapple plantations. However, we think it’s good to know what steps can be taken to improve conditions…

Resources

Download and read documents about all aspects of tropical fruit trade and production.

More resources are available on the Banana Link website. Photos of the daily life of workers in South West Africa are available on the Banana Link Flickr.