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.