Honduras: 6,500 workers on Fyffes’ melon plantations report ongoing labour abuses, chemical exposure & union busting; Incl. company responses

In April 2020, International Labor Rights Forum, Fair World Project, and the International Union of Food Workers published a report alleging ongoing labour rights violations faced by 6,500 workers on Fyffes’ melon plantations in Honduras since 2016. Abuses detailed in the report include toxic chemical exposure, wage theft, union busting and poor working conditions made more unsafe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fyffes is the top importer of melons to the United States, which are sold in major supermarkets across the country. In 2019, Costco and Whole Foods stopped buying Fyffes' Honduran melons due to the ongoing allegations.

Worker on melon plantation in Honduras

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Fyffes and its buyers named in the report - Albertsons (Safeway), Giant, Kroger, Trader Joe's, Publix and Walmart - to respond to the allegations, and to the recommendation for Fyffes to negotiate in good faith with the STAS union to sign a legally-binding agreement to uphold workers’ rights. Fyffes, Albertsons, Kroger and Walmart responded and their responses are included below. Giant, Publix and Trader Joe's did not respond. We also reached out to Tesco who said it does not source melons from Fyffes in Honduras, and Salling Group who said it has not sourced from Fyffes directly or indirectly since 2018.

Previous coverage and company responses on the alleged labour violations at Fyffes melon plantations in Honduras can be found here, here and here.

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Company response
11 May 2020

Albertson's response

Author: Albertsons

...We have previously engaged with Fyffes, the International Labor Rights Forum... and the Fair World Project... regarding concerns raised... [I]t is our understanding that since the initial allegations in 2017, Fyffes has continued to make changes to improve the situation...

After the publication of this report, we spoke with... Fyffes to get an update on their operations and to learn of any recent improvements... [D]espite STAS not being approved by the government as the legal union... Fyffes has been in regular meetings with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Honduran U.S. Embassy, and STAS... to find a solution for STAS to legally represent their workers through a parallel agreement... [T]he meetings were suspended for two months due to COVID-19, and we hope that as meetings resume... a resolution will be reached before the next growing season.

Fyffes has also informed us that when pesticides are applied, they are done when fields are empty, and that the workers... are trained and are given full PPE... They are also providing additional PPE and social distancing measures for workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[The full response is attached]

Download the full document here

Company response
11 May 2020

Fyffes' response

Author: Fyffes

The report is part of a sustained campaign against Fyffes. We... strongly refute the accusations in it about how we treat our workers. Approximately 6,000 of our 7,000 workers in Honduras are members of two legally recognized unions and they are covered by legally-binding collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). These CBAs were submitted to and endorsed by the Honduran Ministry of Labour in May 2019... and apply for three years...

The STAS Union... was denied legal recognition in 2018. Honduran law only allows for one union per operation. Despite this, we have begun discussions with STAS about finding a solution so they can legally represent their workers and negotiate a parallel agreement. Last season as well as this season, Fyffes hired all the STAS-affiliated workers on the lists provided to Fyffes that were free and fit to work. A total of 44 were hired...

Since the onset of Covid-19... the company hired additional medical staff to implement a prevention plan for its Honduran employees. While the nature of field work is already at a social distance, we are providing employees... with masks. In the packhouse, we have implemented social distancing, additional personal protective equipment and disinfection... [W]e have reduced the number of workers on the bus by one third, we disinfect the bus between trips, and we provide workers travelling with masks and hand sanitizer... We are also doing temperature testing...

[The full response is attached]

Download the full document here

Company response
11 May 2020

Kroger's response

Author: Kroger

Kroger has not procured directly or, to the best of our knowledge, indirectly, any Fyffes’ melons from Honduras over the past year and do not have any orders scheduled for the upcoming growing season. Previously, we had plans to perform a Kroger social audit of this Fyffes’ location earlier this year. Unfortunately, due to the seasonal nature of the business and the fact that much of the growing season coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, that has not occurred and will not be possible until late October at the earliest (next growing season).

... In order to do business with Kroger, a supplier is required to agree to our Vendor Code of Conduct. When registering in the Supplier Hub, suppliers must acknowledge their assent to the Code, which includes that the facilities they operate and subcontract with can be subject to Social Compliance Audits. Kroger requires third-party audits of all international facilities that produce Our Brands products, unbranded items and direct import national brands items. In some cases, Kroger also audits domestic facilities if there is a perceived risk... We have a zero-tolerance policy for human rights violations reported through our social compliance program audits or other means. Addressing violations includes documented corrective action plan(s) and corresponding improvements. Failure to complete the corrective action plan(s) within the agreed-upon timeline can result in termination of the supply contract.

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Company response
11 May 2020

Walmart's response

Author: Walmart

... Given our high expectations of our suppliers, we took these claims seriously when they were first raised to us and we continue to do so today.  We have coordinated directly with Fyffes, conducted multiple internal investigations at these facilities, and have subjected these facilities to independent third-party social compliance audits. The findings from these investigations and audits were not consistent with your published report. Given our commitment to promoting the dignity of workers in our supply chain, we will continue to monitor the progress of these facilities and take appropriate action whenever we identify violations of our standards...

[The full response is attached]

Download the full document here

Company non-response
10 May 2020

Giant did not respond

Company non-response
10 May 2020

Publix did not respond

Company non-response
10 May 2020

Trader Joe's did not respond

Article
21 April 2020

Honduras: Fyffes melon workers report ongoing labour violations & poor working conditions made more unsafe amid COVID-19 pandemic

Author: International Labor Rights Forum

"New Report Exposes Toxic Chemicals, Human Rights Abuses on Fyffes Melon Farms", 21 April 2020

A joint report... published today reveals long-term, ongoing human and labor rights violations on Fyffes’ melon plantations in Honduras. The report, Fyffes Farms Exposed: The Fight for Justice in the Honduran Melon Fields, calls on the company to take responsibility to remedy injustices at their farms and commit to a legally-binding, enforceable agreement to uphold workers’ rights...

[Fyffes] workers have long faced toxic chemical exposure and wage theft, and, after organizing to combat those abuses, have faced aggressive union-busting by Fyffes’ management...

In fall of 2019, after Costco and Whole Foods Market ceased their orders of Fyffes’ Honduran melons, and after Salling Group... and Tesco reduced other Fyffes fruit orders due to the violations, Fyffes finally rehired dozens of union members who had been blacklisted for three years. Yet the abuses continue and worker interviews during the 2019-2020 growing season continue to document misuse of toxic chemicals, denial of workers’ right to social security, and conditions that grow still more unsafe as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads...

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Report
21 April 2020

Honduras: Report reveals labour abuses faced by 6,500 workers on Fyffes’ melon plantations, incl. union-busting, harassment & toxic pesticides exposure

Author: International Labor Rights Forum, Fair World Project, and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) Latin America Regional Secretariat

"Fyffe´s farms exposed: The fight for justice in the Honduran melon fields", April 2020

...Fyffe´s employs over 6,500 melon workers in Honduras, the majority of whom are women and seasonal workers.  In 2016 the workers decided to address their longstanding issues by organizing a union with el Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS). In response, local bosses fired and blacklisted dozens of outspoken union leaders and launched a violent union-busting campaign - physically, verbally and psychologically harrassing union members...

[In] 2019-2020... workers at Fyffe´s farm in Honduras continue to report blatant violations of their legally guaranteed rights, including the dangerous misuse of toxic pesticides, denial of sick leave, the company´s failure to enroll its seasonal workers in the national healthcare and pension system, and coercion to force them to leave STAS and to join a company-controlled union that was founded by management, in order to destroy genuine worker organizing.

This report reviews the history of Fyffe´s labour rights violations in Honduras, the ongoing abuses and the responses from Fyffe´s, which includes silencing workers´ lived experiences by employing futile corporate social responsibility programs that distract supermarkets and consumers from the reality on the farms...

These melons, with Fyffes or Sol labels, are sold... by major supermarket chains such as Giant, Kroger, Publix, and Safeway... ILRF and Fair World Project sent letters to many of these... companies, such as Albertsons, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Whole Foods Market... Costco was the first supermarket to notify the NGOs that it had ceased orders from Fyffes Honduras. Costco later reconfirmed that it is not selling Fyffes Honduras melons in the 2019-2020 season... Whole Foods Market responded at the end of January 2020 stating that it will “not source any Honduran melons from Fyffes until the company adequately resolves this issue."...

Read the full post here