World's largest fruit and vegetable grower implicated in child labour in the Philippines

ICFTU OnLine, 057/980305/DD, 6 March 1998

Brussels. March 6. 1998 (ICFTU OnLine): Trade union investigations have revealed the use of child labour on banana plantations which supply Stanfilco, a Philippine subsidiary of Dole Food Company, the world's largest grower and supplier of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF) has photographic evidence on its web site of nine and eleven-year-old children working on the Soyapa Farms banana plantation. One photographs shows a nine-year-old boy who works two hours before school and four hours afterwards, while another shows an eleven year-old girl working six hours a day for just over one dollar cutting dead leaves which have been sprayed with toxic pesticides. Both children work up to 11 hours on Saturday.

This evidence is all the more shocking as Dole promotes itself having a dedication to the safety of our workers, communities and the environment. as well as being a ‘leader in nutrition education for children, working in collaboration with many of the nation's leading health authorities to teach students the value of healthy eating habits.’ In addition it has produced a CD-ROM in which ‘Bobby Banana’ comes to life for an interactive session with the children to excite them about nutrition (according to Dole Food Company's web page).

Meanwhile the children on the banana plantation are working because their families, who are employed by the cooperative cannot survive on adult wages alone. These low wages are a direct result of the low price which the cooperative receives for its bananas which was fixed through contracts that Stanfilco, a Dole-subsidiary negotiated with co-operative. The Soyapa Farm was formed six years ago when Dole convinced small rice farmers to pool their land and cultivate bananas, and to sell them to the Dole subsidiary Stanfilco.

The problems experienced by Soyapa Farm are mirrored by those of four other banana growers cooperatives in the area, (DARBCO, SEARBMPCO,CFARBMPCO and DARBMUPCO) formed by ex-union members. These farms have also been locked into long-term delivery contracts with Dole-subsidiaries at a price below production costs. With accumulated debts of millions of pesos, some of the workers have been forced to take their own children out of school to help in the fields.

On December 4 1997, workers at these four co-operatives stopped production and barricaded their farms to protest at their worsening living conditions. However, on December 21, the barricades to the DARBMUPCO co-operative were violently dispersed by a contingent of 500 policemen, company guards and soldiers, who shot and wounded two farmworkers, occupied the cooperative and placed barbed wire barricades across the entrance road.

As a result of these protests, the DARBCO and SEARBMPCO co-operatives have been able to negotiate better contracts including a better price per box of bananas and an annual price review.

The dispute between the workers in the area and Dole, and one of its Philippine subsidiaries, Stanfilco, is long-running. A local strike in 1989, organised by the National Federation of labour (NFL) was declared illegal, and the NFL was forced to pay huge damages to Stanfilco. Last year Dole move to seek full payment of the outstanding balance—some 4 million pesos, by confiscating union dues and all assets, including an education centre built with funds donated by Swedish workers.

This threat to union assets was in part intended to force the union to drop its support for banana producers co-operatives negotiating the contract price of bananas with local Dole subsidiaries. Negotiations between the union and the company were suspended in January. Dole is now insisting that the NFL drops all unfair labour practice charges currently pending in exchange for waiving the balance of the damage award.