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International Banana Conference: Respect for Trade Union Rights Crucial for 'Reversing the Race to the Bottom'

Posted to the IUF website 05-May-2005

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The IUF, one of the organizers of the Second International Banana Conference* held in Brussels, Belgium from April 28-30, welcomed the conclusions adopted by all participants in the conference final statement, which express strong support for action to respect trade union rights and improve worker health and safety on banana plantations as an integral part of measures to address the continuous downard pressure on prices and global working conditions in the sector.

The conference brought together all major players in the banana industry around the theme "Reversing the race to the bottom". Over 240 participants took part, including representatives of banana workers unions in Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama and St. Vincent. Union representatives from Canada, France, Ireland and the UK also participated. The five major transnational banana companies (Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Fyffes and Noboa) and national producers took part, together with numerous government representatives.

The final conference statement called on governments to implement and enforce ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and on national and transnational banana companies to respect these rights.

The conference recognized that union rights are essential for bringing about urgently needed improvements in workplace health and safety and environmental protection, specifically noting that health and safety committees and trade union safety representatives were indispensable for implementing improvements. On the opening day, participants paid tribute to the many thousands of agricultural workers who are killed and injured at work each year, with special reference to the thousands of Nemagon victims in Nicaragua.

On the thorny issue of the European banana import regime currently being challenged at the WTO, the conference agreed to call on the European Commission to undertake a full evaluation of the economic, social, gender and environmental impacts of different tariff and supply management scenarios for EU banana imports before implementing any changes to the current system.

Trade union and civil society participants in the conference insisted that the nine governments who have requested WTO arbitration, together with the ACP suppliers, should "give priority to the process of negotiation, both amongst themselves and with the EU, in order to find consensus over reform of the EU banana regime, with the participation of civil society actors represented in the conference".

The final conference declaration also called for:

For more information on IUF activity in the banana sector, and on the IUF International Banana Union Alliance recently launched to coordinate global union action, go to the web page for the banana sector on the IUF website.


*The other conference organisers were: EUROBAN (European Banana Action Network), a pan-European alliance of trade unions, environment and development NGOs and fair trade organisations; COLSIBA (the Co-ordinating Committee of Latin American Banana Workers´┐Ż Unions); WINFA (the Association of Caribbean Farmers, based in the Windward Islands); and US LEAP (US Labor Education in the Americas Project).