Melon Production in Honduras

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Nearly 40 per cent of the Honduran labor force worked in agriculture in 2005, and agriculture still accounts for 13 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—almost half of all exports.  Melons are the fourth largest agricultural export of Honduras, placing the country among the top melon-exporting countries in the world. The United States has considerable control over the Honduran economy, with over 67 per cent of all exports.  Honduras is also a member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Much of the Honduran melon crop is destined for the U.S., and many of the most recognizable names in fruit are connected to the Honduran melon industry, including Dole and Chiquita.

Working Conditions
The melon industry in Honduras employs an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 workers on plantations and in packing centers around the country.  The seasonality of U.S. demand (not many Americans want to eat melon in January) means that hiring periods are relatively short and employment is largely temporary.  For instance, on one plantation owned by Sur Agricola de Honduras (SURAGROH), the largest melon producer in the country, only 600 employees are permanent while 5,000 are temporary.  Typically, only administrative workers are considered ‘permanent’ and hold written contracts with a company.  Field workers are normally hired on a temporary basis either under verbal contract or through subcontractors, leaving little accountability regarding labor rights.  As a result, wages are often below the minimum requirement, and workers are often required to work for several weeks before receiving their first paycheck.  Unfortunately, the use of temporary and subcontracted labor is growing around the world, such as Unilever''s Lipton tea factories in Pakistan.

Melon production in Honduras requires high levels of manual labor, and the two major occupational safety risks are exposure to harmful chemicals and repetitive stooping and bending motions.  Despite widespread use of powerful pesticides fertilizers, melon producers often don’t provide workers with protective gear, which results in a host of health problems for workers.

Child Labor
The International Labor Organization found that the agricultural sector is the leader for child labor in Honduras, employing 50-60% of workers between the ages of 5 and 14. The melon industry is no exception.  In fact, children are actively recruited to work in the melon industry because they are able to execute the crouching movements required by melon work.  Exposure to chemicals and repetitive motions has resulted in serious health problems for children in the Choluteca and Valle regions where melons are produced.  In order to skirt child labor laws producers often employ subcontractors to hire them, thus avoiding direct accountability.

For more information on the Honduran melon industry, read our March 2012 report, Women in the Honduran Melon Industry.