Ecuador: Labour rights defender Jorge Acosta threatened & charged amidst rising pressure on banana workers trying to organise


In June 2019, companies sourcing bananas from Ecuador - Axfood, Coop, Everfresh, Greenfood, Martin & Servera and Menigo - released a joint statement to Ecuadorian government in support of Jorge Acosta, the coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC (Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos) in Ecuador - after Swedwatch invited banana buyers to do so. Jorge has worked for over ten years to address labour rights, health and safety issues and environmental impacts of business activities in the banana sector and is the President of the Ecuadorian Consultative Council for the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU. Jorge is risking prosecution for “creating economic panic” chargeable with five to seven years in prison. The companies emphasised that they rely on human rights defenders, such as Jorge, to be able to speak freely, and without fear of retaliation or reprisal, about challenges in the supply chains. The Resource Centre reached out to banana buying companies, inviting them to respond to Swedwatch's call. Apart from the companies above, ICA and Dole also commented substantively on the situation - available below. Tesco and ETI Norway answered, but did not provide any substantive comments, while Special Fruit clarified they did not source bananas. Chiquita, Del Monte, Fyffes, Nature’s Pride, Noboa and Total Produce did not answer.

In February 2020, Jorge Acosta was charged - and companies again decided to support him. On February 7, 2020, Jorge went to the court in Babahoyo requesting copies of a document, necessary for the protection of local workers that tried to organize and were dismissed for doing so. Jorge clarified to the Judge that the one who asked for the certified copies was lawyer Javier Cuadro, member of the anti-corruption commission. When mentioning the anti-corruption commission, the judge got upset and accused Jorge of threatening him, and asked the secretary to call the police. Jorge took out his cell phone to record the situation and was subsequently accused by the judge of intimidating him for filming what was happening. Jorge Acosta was taken into custody and according to the police report, the crime that he is accused of is a violation of the privacy of the judge. Axfood, Greenfood, Martin & Servera, Menigo, Unil AS, as well as Fairtrade Sweden said on 5 March 2020: 

...In his role as a human rights defender, Mr Acosta is entitled to the right to seek, obtain, receive and hold information relating to human rights according to the UN Declaration on human rights defenders.2 As companies that are dependent on global supply chains we are committed to respecting human rights in all parts of our operations. We rely on human rights defenders, such as Mr Acosta, to be able to speak freely, and without fear of retaliation or reprisal, about challenges in the supply chains. Such information, in addition to information by other sources, is crucial for us to continue improving the performance of our sector, in close cooperation with our suppliers. We do hope that the Ecuadorian courts of Justice and the Government will act to ensure that Mr Acosta will not be subject to any unfair treatment.

 His hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, 11 March 2020.

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Article
11 March 2020

Ecuador: Swedwatch calls on more companies purchasing bananas to support defender Jorge Acosta

"Ecuadorian defender faces new legal accusations", 10 Mar 2020

Union leader and human rights defender Jorge Acosta faces new legal accusations in Ecuador, related to his reports on labour rights issues in the banana sector. Swedwatch calls on companies purchasing bananas to use their leverage and demand fair treatment for Acosta...  On 7 February 2020, Acosta was arrested and detained for several hours after having requested court documents from a case related to the dismissal of banana workers attempting to form a trade union, according to ASTAC. He was accused of violating a judge’s privacy when he insisted the documents were public and subsequently tried to film the response of a judge when his request was denied. Acosta’s hearing is scheduled for 11 March 2020 at Unidad Penal de Babahoyo, in Babahoyo, the capital of Ecuador’s Los Ríos province. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in jail... The accusations against Acosta exemplify a global trend towards the silencing of human rights defenders through strategic lawsuits... In a joint response to the allegations made towards Acosta, six Nordic companies published a letter to the Ecuadorian Government on 5 March 2020 underlining the important role played by defenders such as Jorge Acosta and asking that he be treated fairly...

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Article
5 March 2020

Ecuador: Nordic companies write to govt. again to express concerns about a hearing against defender Jorge Acosta

Author: Axfood, Fairtrade Sweden, Greenfood, Martin & Servera, Menigo & Unil AS

"Statement regarding legal action against human rights defender Jorge Acosta", 05 Mar 2020

Spanish version

We, the undersigned companies [Axfood, Greenfood, Martin & Servera, Menigo, Unil AS, and organization Fairtrade Sweden] are importers (direct and indirect) of banana from Ecuador. We want to express our grave concern about the situation of Ecuadorian human rights defender and trade union leader Mr Jorge Acosta. Mr Acosta is the coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC... In May 2019, some of us sent a public letter to you in support of Mr Acosta who was then accused of creating economic panic for reporting negative impacts of the banana industry. It is with great concern we now note that legal action is taken against Mr Acosta in another case which also seems to be an attempt to obstruct his legitimate work as a human rights defender... As companies that are dependent on global supply chains, we are committed to respecting human rights in all parts of our operations. We rely on human rights defenders, such as Mr Acosta, to be able to speak freely, and without fear of retaliation or reprisal, about challenges in the supply chains. Such information...is crucial for us to continue improving the performance of our sector, in close cooperation with our suppliers. We do hope that the Ecuadorian courts of Justice and the Government will act to ensure that Mr Acosta will not be subject to any unfair treatment... 

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Article
+ Español - Hide

Author: Axfood, Fairtrade Sweden, Greenfood, Martin & Servera, Menigo & Unil AS

"Declaración sobre la acción legal contra el defensor de los derechos humanos Jorge Acosta"

"Nosotras, las empresas abajo firmantes, somos importadoras (directa e indirectamente) de plátano desde Ecuador. Deseamos expresar nuestra grave preocupación sobre la situación del dirigente sindical ecuatoriano y defensor de los derechos humanos, el  Sr. Jorge Acosta. El Sr. Acosta es el coordinador de la Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC)... En mayo de 2019, algunos de nosotros les enviamos a ustedes una carta abierta a favor del Sr. Acosta, que entonces fue acusado de haber creado pánico económico por haber informado sobre los impactos negativos de la industria bananera. Es con mucha consternación que ahora notamos que se toman acciones judiciales contra el Sr. Acosta por otro caso, lo que parece un intento de obstruir su trabajo legitimo como defensor de los derechos humanos... Como empresas que dependemos de las cadenas de suministro mundiales, estamos comprometidos de respetar los derechos humanos en todas partes de nuestras operaciones. Contamos con lxs defensorxs de los derechos humanos, como el Sr. Acosta, para poder hablar con libertad, y sin miedo de represalias, de los desafíos en las cadenas de suministro. Dicha información... es crucial para que podemos continuar mejorando el rendimiento de nuestro sector, en estrecha cooperación con nuestros proveedores. Esperamos que los tribunales ecuatorianos de justicia y el gobierno actúen para asegurar que el Sr. Acosta no será objeto de cualquier trato injusto..." 

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Article
25 February 2020

Ecuador: Unionist is threatened & charged twice within a few months, in midst of general pressure on banana workers not to organize

Author: Beitrag der Woche, Mutantia

"Ecuador's banana plantations, a nest of slavery", 24 Feb 2020

[Unoffical translation from German by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre]

If someone defends the rights of workers in the Ecuadorian banana plantations and, like Jorge Acosta… this is automatically a risk... "The banana production is as dirty as the drug trade” [said Acosta]… Acosta has already felt the consequences… He received a death threat by phone two years ago, was charged in April 2019 for allegedly causing "economic panic", and in early February 2020, a local judge had him jailed. Acosta is the founder and coordinator of the banana union ASTAC… He requested copies of a document from the legal department of Babahoyo Municipality, one of the centres of Ecuadorian banana production,… which is the basis… to legally defend 46 plantation workers - they were fired from one day to the next in 2019 after trying to organize themselves. The document is actually public, but the administration didn't want to put it out… Acosta… pointed out that a member of the regional anti-corruption agency had requested the same document in writing the previous day… [T]he judge got angry according to ASTAC and had the police called. The unionist…started filming the situation. That was… enough to accuse him of "violation of privacy". If convicted, Acosta faces one to three years in prison... "This case needs to be shelved… to guarantee Acosta's freedom as a trade unionist so that labour rights in the Ecuadorian banana industry can be strengthened."… According to ASTAC… at least 150 workers have been made redundant in the past two years because they wanted to organize. "… One of the darkest tools… is the black list,… known since the 1980s. The names of those workers who… complain… or… organize… are written on it. They circulate among… producers in the region, which ensure that the people listed… no longer find work in the banana industry… The fear of opening one's mouth… is correspondingly great… A UN special rapporteur had compared working conditions in Ecuador's banana plantations to modern slavery ten years ago… Not much has changed since…as… “[t]hose who are actually responsible for workers' rights… are part of the Ecuadorian elite… [T]hat creates an enormous level of impunity. "… The majority of plantation workers have no written contracts… [P]oisoning from pesticides is… part of everyday life as [is] sexual harassment… Child labour is still an issue… ASTAC, which despite its approximately 1,400 members is still not recognized as a union by the government… filed a complaint with the European Union last year for failing to comply with the labour and environmental standards set out in the free trade agreement… Jorge Acosta is still waiting for the trial. This has… been scheduled for next Friday. Striking: In both cases, extracts from Acosta's social security and the tax office have been requested. "These documents have… nothing to do with the case," says his lawyer…

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Article
12 June 2019

Ecuador: Labour rights defender supporting banana sector workers risks persecution

Author: Swedwatch (Sweden)

"Defender working on banana sector risks persecution", 14 May 2019

In Ecuador, Jorge Acosta risks prosecution for “creating economic panic” for reporting on labour rights and environmental issues in the banana sector. Companies purchasing bananas from Ecuador should make public their position regarding defenders’ rights and this specific case. Agribusiness has surpassed the mining sector as the most dangerous sector for human rights and environmental defenders globally, with Latin America being the worst continent...[1]...Jorge Acosta [is the] coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC (Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos), which organises around 1,500 banana workers across the country[2], [he] is a well renowned human rights defender who has worked for over ten years to address labour rights, health and safety issues and environmental impacts in the banana sector... [O]n April 18, Jorge Acosta was notified that an official complaint had been presented to the Ecuadorian Attorney General by a private individual. The complaint accused Jorge Acosta of “creating economic panic”, a crime chargeable with five to seven years in prison... The accusation against Jorge is a threat to freedom of speech and association and exemplifies a global tendency to try to quiet defenders through lawsuits... According to Jorge...he has also received a number of threats, including death threats... In April 2019, the Ecuadorian Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) published an extensive study of working conditions in the banana sector. The study confirmed what ASTAC has been stating for years... 

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Esta es una traducción informal del Centro de Información sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos (CIEDH)

Las empresas abajo firmante, Axfood, Coop, Everfresh, Greenfood, Martin & Servera and Menigo, se proveen de productos del sector bananero en Ecuador. Nuestro trabajo con proveedores ecuatorianos contribuyó a los 3,2 mil millones de dólares en banano exportado desde el Ecuador el año pasado. Como compañías de alimentos líderes en el mercado europeo, somos conscientes de que el sector agrícola es uno de los sectores más peligrosos para los defensores y las defensoras de los derechos humanos en todo el mundo, reportando un aumento de amenazas y ataques durante los últimos años... Actualmente, estamos seriamente preocupados por la situación del defensor de derechos humanos y líder sindical ecuatoriano, Jorge Acosta, quien, entendemos, corre el riesgo de ser enjuiciado por “crear pánico económico” lo cual conlleva una pena de cinco a siete años de prisión, según el artículo 307 del Código Penal Orgánico Integral de Ecuador. 
 

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Article
11 June 2019

Ecuador: European cos. publicly support defender Jorge Acosta & call on govt. to protect defenders

Author: Axfood, Coop, Everfresh, Greenfood, Martin & Servera and Menigo

"Letter in support of Jorge Acosta", 11 Jun 2019

To the Government of Ecuador, The undersigned companies, Axfood, Coop, Everfresh, Greenfood, Martin & Servera and Menigo, source from the banana sector in Ecuador... As leading food companies in the European market we are aware that the agriculture sector is one of the most dangerous sectors for human rights defenders globally, with an increase in threats and attacks during recent years... We are currently gravely concerned about the situation of Ecuadorian human rights defender and trade union leader Jorge Acosta, who we understand risks prosecution for “creating economic panic”... As companies that are dependent on global supply chains we are committed to respecting human rights in all parts of our operations. We rely on human rights defenders, such as Jorge Acosta, to be able to speak freely, and without fear of retaliation or reprisal, about challenges in the supply chains. Such information, in addition to information by other sources, is crucial for us to continue improving the performance of our sector, in close cooperation with our suppliers... [W]e call upon the Ecuadorian government to guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with the ILO Core Conventions ratified by Ecuador, and to provide full protection of all human rights defenders...

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Company non-response
11 June 2019

Fyffes did not respond re: defender Jorge Acosta

Company response
11 June 2019

ICA response re: defender Jorge Acosta

ICA expects all our suppliers to act in a responsible way and work in line with the requirements stipulated in our contracts. In these we point to the need for suppliers , that have business in countries like Ecuador, to conduct business in responsible and social acceptable ways.

We will put forward the below concerns to our suppliers in Ecuador and have them confirm that they act accordingly.

Company non-response
11 June 2019

Noboa did not respond re: Jorge Acosta