The Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA) has written to seven of the biggest German and UK supermarkets raising concerns about the retailers’ continuing reliance upon Rainforest Alliance certification as a guarantee of ethical standards in their supply chains.
COLSIBA represents directly some 75,000 agroindustrial workers across countries of Latin America, most of them working on banana plantations from Peru to Guatemala, and believes that Rainforest certification is insufficient and ineffective at guaranteeing respect for labour rights on certified plantations.
Banana Link originally highlighted what they saw as shortcomings in Rainforest certification in their 2016 report Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards? which highlighted evidence of shortcomings in the implementation of respect for the freedom to join an independent union on certified farms, along with other weakness in the certification system which meant certified producers were not guaranteed to receive prices that covered their costs of sustainable production and thereby unable to pay living wages to their workers.
Banana Link has concluded that despite their concerted advocacy efforts to achieve commitments from Rainforest to make improvements to their capacity to verify their own standards and to enhance social dialogue in the sector, that the certifier lacks the capacity or political will to implement such improvements. It is for this reason that COLSIBA, with full support from Banana Link, is seeking to engage in direct dialogue with major retailers on alternative ways of ensuring that human and labor rights are respected in their supply chains.
Rainforest Alliance's response
In response to this action and statement, Emma Harbour, Director of Advocacy and Global Themes & Partnerships at Rainforest Alliance, says: “The Rainforest Alliance recognizes and values the important role and work trade unions and worker representatives have in protecting and representing workers’ rights. As such, Freedom of Association, including the freedom to join a trade union, is a critical criterion (4.4) of the Sustainable Agriculture Standard. We continue to strive for an open and constructive relationship with trade unions, and we appreciate their role in raising issues at a farm level, including this statement made by COLSIBA.”
With regard to the new 2020 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard, Harbour highlights the effort made by Rainforest Alliance to ensure that the industry is closely involved: “The development of the new certification program included a two-year multi-stakeholder process, numerous public consultation workshops, input from more than 1,000 stakeholders in nearly 50 countries, representing more than 200 organizations and an additional 6-month technical consultation with banana stakeholders to ensure smooth uptake of the new approach. Input was solicited from producers, farm workers, trade associations, trade unions, local NGOs, retailers, traders and other relevant stakeholders. Following the publication of the 2020 Standard, the Rainforest Alliance has additionally conducted multiple meetings and dialogues with banana sector organizations, which have led to improvements in the standard and policies to provide the most efficient and impactful implementation pathway for banana growers in Latin America,” she says.
Harbour concludes: The Rainforest Alliance believes that partnership and collaboration are key in addressing the major sustainability challenges faced by farmers and workers in the fruit sector. Certification alone cannot solve any country’s entrenched socio-economic problems. Systemic issues related to human rights, enforcement of national legislation and long-standing power imbalances in global supply chains can only be effectively remedied through sustained engagement and cooperation among all relevant actors. We take our role in that context very seriously and we are actively working to address these ongoing issues on Rainforest Alliance certified farms as part of our overarching effort to achieve sustainability in the fruit sector.”
To read COLSIBA's letter to retailers, click here.
To view Rainforest Alliance's 2020 Certification Program, click here.
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