Dublin-based tropical fruits company Fyffes has secured a reprieve from being expelled from an influential ethical body as the firm and its new Japanese owners entered talks with unions on a dispute over Honduras melon farm workers' rights.
The UK government-sponsored Ethical Trading Initiative, which Fyffes has been a member of since 2002, suspended the Irish firm from its organisation in May for 90 days over the company's "failure to meet its membership obligations".
While Fyffes got a five-week extension until September 8th to resolve the stand-off, and faced outright expulsion at an Ethical Trading Initiative board meeting last week, the organisation has decided to give the new talks a chance.
The ETI said in a statement posted on its website in Monday that a “process of dialogue was now under way” between Fyffes, its new owner, Tokyo-based Sumitomo Corporation, and the International Union of Foodworkers.
“While the board recognised this as a constructive step forward, they also considered it too early to say whether the move will address ETI’s concerns about conditions for workers in Honduras,” the organisation said. “The board therefore decided to maintain Fyffes’ suspension for the time being.”
It will review the position at its next meeting in November. A spokesman for Fyffes said the company “welcomes the recognition by the ETI that we are making progress in our discussions and continue to work toward reinstatement to full membership in due course”.
Shareholders in Fyffes 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 wage 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.