Fyffes gets five more weeks from ethics body to fix Honduras dispute
Fruit firm linked to alleged worker exploitation in its Central American operations
Bananalink protest outside the extraordinary general meeting of fruit distributor Fyffes, which approved the group’s €751 million takeover by Japanese group Sumitomo Corporation in February. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Fyffes, the Dublin-based tropical fruits company taken over in February by a Japanese group, has been given until next month to resolve a dispute over alleged worker exploitation in its Central American operations or face being expelled from an influential ethical body.
The British government-sponsored Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which Fyffes has been a member since 2002, last week gave Fyffes a five-week extension, until September 8th, to reach agreement with the International Union of Farmworkers (IUF) on the treatment of the fruit group’s melon workers in Honduras.
The ETI had suspended Fyffes from the organisation in May for 90 days “over what it viewed as the company’s failure to meet its membership obligations”. The banana-to-pineapple distributor faces outright expulsion following an ETI board meeting in mid-September if agreement cannot be achieved by the new deadline.
Shareholders in Fyffes, led by David McCann, approved the group’s €751 million takeover by Japanese group Sumitomo Corporation in February against the backdrop of a group of demonstrators outside the Dublin hotel hosting the meeting, who were highlighting the plight of mainly seasonal female workers at group subsidiaries in Honduras and Costa Rica.
The demonstrators, led by UK not-for-profit organisation Bananalink and trade union GMB, outlined alleged instances specific to Fyffes’ Suragroh melon unit in Honduras, where workers failed to receive minimum wages and social insurance, were exposed to hazardous agrochemicals and were sacked for being union members.
The ETI last year received an official complaint and calls for Fyffes to be expelled from the organisation.
Peter McAllister, executive direct of ETI, said in May, as the company’s membership was suspended, that while labour rights issues can be complex and there is “frequently room for different interpretations and genuine ambiguity”, concerns over the right of Suragroh workers to be represented lie at the heart of this dispute.
A subcommittee of the ETI had decided before the suspension that Fyffes “had not demonstrated that it understood or acted on its obligations” within the body’s base code. It said that while Fyffes consistently said that it complied with local law, body members must adhere to the base code when its standards are higher than legal compliance.
A spokeswoman for Fyffes said that it has been engaging with the IUF, as the ETI has recommended, and the process is ongoing.
“Acknowledging scheduling difficulties due to the European vacation period, the ETI has extended the deadline to September 8th to allow further progress to be made,” the spokeswoman said.
“Fyffes is a responsible employer and fully respects the rights of all its workers, including their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The company has a long history of providing fair and equal employment in Central America, contributing to the lives of the communities in which it operates.”