Date: Wed, 26 Nov 97 13:40:31 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ICFTU: Bananas Workers Lose Out
Article: 22820

/** 268.0 **/
** Topic: Bananas Workers Lose Out **
** Written 12:11 AM Nov 26, 1997 by labornews in **

Bananas: the workers lose out

By André Linard, ICFTU Online ..., 26 November 1997

Brussels, November 5 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ordered the European Union to remove its quotas on banana imports. Since 1992, the fruit has been allowed free entry into Europe if it came from Africa, the Caribbean or the Pacific (ACP), while Latin American bananas, the so-called dollar bananas, had to pay high entry tariffs. The purpose of this was both to protect Europe's own produce (from the Canaries, French overseas territories, Madeira, Crete?) and apply the Lomé Convention, the agreement that grants trade preferences to 70 ACP countries.

The countries in the dollar zone, for whom trade with Europe is vital—Europe represents about 38 per cent of world imports—strongly objected to the EUs measures.

They adopted different strategies, some negotiating with Europe to increase their quotas (in some cases successfully) while others chose confrontation. Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala chose the second route, and were joined by the United States whose multinationals (Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita) control many plantations and 80 per cent of world trade. They won their case at the WTO.

The European Union has announced it will abide by the decision, to the anger of the ACP producers and their governments. Edwin Laurent, the eastern Caribbean ambassador to the EU, stated at the beginning of October 1997 We thought we were supported by the Lomé Convention. The European Commission has brains; let's see whether it has any ideas to go with them. For these countries, and the countries of Africa, the decision is catastrophic: it will lead to job losses, bankruptcy and closures. Their bananas will be more expensive and unable to withstand competition.

The workers lose

For the workers, the WTO decision is a defeat. Not because priority should be given to the ACP, after all, there were closures in Latin America too, after the European Union set quotas. The union of (Latin American) banana exporting countries estimates that in 1993 some 174,000 jobs were lost in the continent owing to European preferences. At the same time, the European banana growers' association claims that 160,000 jobs and 50,000 small plantations depend on this fruit in Europe and in the ACP countries. However, such statistics are both hard to verify, and can be meaningless, given that plantations can close for other reasons.

The workers lose out first of all because the WTO does not take any social considerations into account. Neither the multinationals nor our governments wish to discuss a social clause in the WTO, they're not interested explained Gilberto Bermudez, head of the Latin American banana workers' association, in 1995.

The workers also lose because the WTO has ratified the exploitation of both nature and labour. The lower cost of Latin American bananas is due not only to the efficiency of the plantations but the greater exploitation of their workers. In 1992, a worker at the Limn plantation in Costa Rica explained Our wages are acceptable, but we work a 14-hour day, and are exposed to toxic substances spread from aeroplanes. The workers are paid two to six times less than in the ACP countries: in Martinique and Guadeloupe, where the French social security system is applied, labour accounts for 38 per cent of the price of a banana. Euroban, a network of European NGOs and producers' organisations explains that on the plantations owned by the big companies there are problems concerning payment, day to day contracts, working hours, leave, workplace health and safety, housing—and all these problems are even worse for women.

In Colombia the ICFTU recorded in its annual survey (June 1997) a total of 80 assassinations of trade unionists in 1996, pointing out that many of them had been committed on the banana plantations and targeted in particular the Sintrainagro trade union. Representatives of this union were killed while negotiating for better working conditions.


The banana plantations, particularly those in Costa Rica, are also in the front line in the fight against solidarismo, the so-called trade unions manipulated by the employers. The health and safety conditions are very bad. The ground is over-cultivated, thanks to chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are damaging workers' health, as can be seen from the many fatal cases of poisoning.

Behind the commercial interests at stake lies an economic and social challenge. Euroban has asked the European Union to reserve part of the market for bananas produced under conditions that respect ILO conventions and environmental standards. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, mindful of the future of the Commonwealth's banana trade, has asked Europe to award a fair trade label to fruit produced under the right, but therefore more expensive, conditions. Then it will be up to the consumer to choose.