The Agroindustrial Workers’ Union (STAS) has been trying to organize seasonal melon workers and improve labor conditions in Choluteca for more than four years. It accuses Fyffes, a Dublin-based, Japanese-owned multinational and leading exporter of fruit to the United States and Europe, of systematically violating the workers’ freedom of association.
In early 2019, after an international pressure campaign led by the International Labor Rights Forum and Fair World Project, Fyffes seemed to relent, agreeing to talk with the union and reinstate some workers allegedly fired in retaliation. But since then, the union says Fyffes has backtracked, refused to recognize the union, and instead supported parallel company-backed unions. This is meant to preempt militant unions like STAS from establishing themselves as representatives of the temporary workers, who make up 90 percent of the workforce.
“The formation of those organizations was part of a pattern of anti union violence against STAS,” says the union’s general secretary, Moises Sanchez, in a phone interview with The Progressive from Honduras, conducted via a translator. “And the reason that they recognized those unions was not because they are a good farm or a good multinational corporation. What we want are exclusive bargaining rights for the temporary workers on the farms who don’t have a voice or a vote to improve their working conditions.”
Throughout this period, Sanchez has faced repeated physical and legal attacks.
According to interviews conducted in late November with workers in the Choluteca region, the workers were warned “that the company would close its operations and that they wouldn’t be rehired the next season” unless they agreed to support the company-backed union. Workers who had been fired in retaliation for union activity were told they would only be “reinstated on the condition that they not be involved with STAS.”
Such complaints are not new. Over the past two years, a steady stream of reports of union busting, along with international labor pressure, led to two ethical-sourcing certification bodies: Fairtrade USA and Ethical Trade Initiative. Defenders of STAS succeeded in pressuring Costco Wholesale to cease sourcing Fyffes melons in light of the labor dispute.
Workers also complained of unsafe conditions in the fields—an issue that STAS has also organized around. A worker interviewed by the International Labor Rights Forum in late November attested to heavy pesticide residues in the fields that lingered after nighttime spraying.
“When we entered, we felt the vapor of the poison and we said to ourselves, we are going to be poisoned,” the worker said. “People suffer intoxication daily but since no one denounces that, it stays as if nothing happened. Only if you live through it in your own flesh, you’ll see it.”
I’ve said it before and I will say it again–this is not inevitable. Among other things, we could fight for what I have called the Corporate Accountability Act that ensures that products being imported into the United States are produced in reasonably decent conditions that follow basic human rights that include freedom of association, the right to a safe workplace, and other basic rights. But we would rather spend all our time obsessing over which Democratic candidate is going to win the primary and then have pretty much the same kind of presidency than do the intellectual and political legwork to have a strong agenda ready for when that candidate does in fact win. It’s up to us to place these issues in front of the Democratic Party and its candidates and demand change.