The banana industry has been one of the most highly unionized agricultural sector workforces in the Americas.  However, now the ability of these workers to bargain collectively and maintain decent conditions is being threatened.

As global production shifts to Africa and direct purchasing by supermarkets such as Walmart and Tesco increases, the undercutting of prices is fueling a downward pressure on wages. Through our USLEAP program, ILRF is working with the banana unions in Latin America and allies in the US to build a solidarity campaign to support workers organizing in this sector.

Facts about the banana industry:

  • Bananas are the most widely-sold produce item in supermarkets across the US.
  • Nearly all bananas consumed in the U.S. come from plantations in Latin America that together employ over 300,000 workers.
  • Some banana workers make relatively decent wages but more and more do not because of an accelerating race to the bottom.
  • Unionized banana workers can make $10 a day plus $10 a day in benefits; non-union banana workers make $3 a day, with no benefits.
  • More than 80% of bananas sold in the U.S. are controlled by four companies (Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte and Bonita).

The race-to-the-bottom is threatening banana workers.

Over the past 100 years, workers in the Latin American banana industry have fought hard to achieve decent wages, benefits, and working conditions.  They have accomplished this in some countries by forming unions. These gains are now being lost as the banana industry is engaged in a "race to the bottom” as companies shift from unionized production to non-union production.
Unionized banana workers can make $10 a day or more, with benefits equivalent to another $10 a day.  Most unionized banana workers have access to healthcare, schools for their children, and housing.  Most non-union banana workers make $3 a day or less, with no benefits, and no voice at work.

The race to the bottom is led especially by companies operating in Ecuador, the largest banana exporter in the world, and on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Working conditions, wages, and benefits on banana plantations in Ecuador and the Pacific coast of Guatemala are some of the worst in Latin America. Unlike most of its competitors in the region, Ecuador's banana industry is almost completely non-union, as is the Pacific coast of Guatemala.

Leaders in the Race to the Bottom: Dole and Bonita

The primary leaders of the "race to the bottom" are banana companies that source heavily from low-wage, non-union Ecuador, including Dole and Bonita, and from the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.  Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas.  It is a country where banana unions have been successfully resisted by any means necessary, including violence.  For example, armed thugs violently attacked Bonita workers on strike at plantations in Ecuador in May 2002, ending the most important organizing effort in decades. It is also nearly impossible for workers to organize unions to improve wages and conditions on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala.
Banana companies have frequently cited the low-wage competition from Ecuador as a reason to cut jobs, wages and benefits, and close plantations in other countries.

Chiquita Tries High Road

In 2001, in a major shift in Chiquita's relations with its unions and its critics, Chiquita signed with its Latin American unions and the International Union of Foodworkers a path-breaking agreement to respect worker rights. Chiquita has sought to differentiate itself from its competitors by taking the "high road" with respect to its relations with banana workers.

USLEAP Response Targets Leaders of the "Race to the Bottom"

USLEAP works with Latin American banana unions, U.S. and international labor groups, and European partners on campaigns and initiatives to stop the "race to the bottom."  These include a global campaign against Dole, a boycott of Bonita bananas, support for worker organizing, and engagement on consumer-based initiatives.

Banana companies must commit to end the repression of unions.

Banana brands, supermarkets and certifiers must agree, not only on paper but also in practice, to put an end to the repression of democratic and independent trade unions in their plantations and those of their subcontractors. This is a crucial step toward ensuring both compliance with the social rights specified in International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. Only by demonstrating this in practice on the ground will companies be able to claim a genuine commitment to sustainable development and respect for the rights of all their workers.

USLEAP campaigns to support banana workers who are fighting against a race to the bottom and seeking fair wages, decent benefits, justice and dignity.

USLEAP has successfully:

  • Campaigned for a path-breaking 2001 worker rights agreement between Chiquita and its unions;
  • Won (some) justice for Del Monte banana workers who were violently attacked in Guatemala;
  • Won compensation for and rehiring of Dole and Bonita workers in Ecuador;
  • Organized sign-on letters to Dole and Chiquita;
  • Testified before the U.S. Trade Representative on Del Monte abuses;
  • Met with Ecuadorian banana magnate Alvaro Noboa after he brought in thugs to attack his own workers;
  • Organized fact-finding delegations to Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia;
  • Led U.S. participation and co-sponsorship of a 2005 International Banana Conference;
  • Secured financing for strategic planning workshops for banana workers;
  • Co-sponsored production of a special report on labor violations in Dole operations around the world, and more.

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