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The Centre for Global Labour Research: ‘Banana Fair Trade: Just Trade’

Starts: 9 January 2008

The Centre for Global Labour Research held a colloquium titled ‘Banana Fair Trade: Just Trade’ during the afternoon of the 9th January 2008 in the Glamorgan Building.

Speakers included Ron Oswald, General Secretary IUF, George Jaksch, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs, Chiquita International and and Julian Oram, Deputy Head of Action Aid UK.

 

Julian Oram, Ron Oswald, Peter Fairbrother, George Jaksch and Pam Robinson.

Julian Oram, Ron Oswald, Peter Fairbrother, George Jaksch and Pam Robinson.

Context of the Debate

During the last decade, trade unions, developmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and consumer groups have campaigned for business to tackle the issue of poor labour conditions in global supply chains.  Accusations of reputable companies selling everyday goods made by exploited workers, helped to galvanise companies take greater responsibility for labour conditions in the production operation of the chain.  Subsequently, a number of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies were developed, which incorporated the introduction of labour codes of conduct and certifiable standards in global supply chains. More recently, International Framework Agreements (IFAs), negotiated between Corporations, and Global and Local Unions have been introduced.  The colloquium will discuss the role of these voluntary initiatives in the banana global supply chain. The banana makes for an interesting case study, because it the biggest selling and most profitable food product stocked by UK supermarkets today, and the industry is highly concentrated with large transnational corporations managing production and large supermarkets controlling access to the consumer market.  

Some of the questions the colloquium hopes to explore are:

  • How do labour initiatives improve the working conditions on banana plantations?
  • What role do the initiatives play in terms of labour regulation?
  • What is the future of IFAs in the banana sector?

A Very Successful Debate

The Banana Colloquium was a major success. Over thirty delegates debated the complexity of FairTrade: Just Trade.  The debate was foreshadowed by Pam Robinson, who set the scene with an account of her research interest regarding labour codes of conduct in global supply chains and a brief summary of the global banana supply chain – from plantation to supermarket shelf.  This was followed by each guest speaker presenting for twenty-five minutes on their role, as social actors in the global supply chain, with five minutes at the end for the most pressing of questions.  A more detailed panel discussion was held after all presentations had been made.

 

George Jaksch Presentation

George Jaksch Presentation

The first presentation was made by George Jaksch, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs at Chiquita.  George outlined the history and current activities of Chiquita, in terms of the company’s social responsibility credentials and the development of a number of labour initiatives including certification of banana farms through the Rainforest Alliance and Social Accounting International (SAI) accreditation systems.  One key development made by Chiquita in respect of labour conditions on banana plantations was highlighted – the International Framework Agreement (IFA).  This groundbreaking agreement was signed with the global union, the International Foodworkers Union (IUF) and the Central American trade union, COLSIBA (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Sindicatos Bananeros) in July 2001.

 

Ron Oswald Presentation

Ron Oswald Presentation

This was a natural link to the role of the IUF and the presentation of the next guest speaker, Ron Oswald, the General Secretary of the IUF.  Ron explained the union’s position and experience of global supply chains, and the policies that the union had progressively advocated which led towards International Framework Agreements (IFAs).  He noted the positive work with Chiquita and Coca-Cola, as two leading companies in their respective industries and detailed how such agreements could impact the labour conditions experienced by workers in the food industry around the world.

 

Julian Oram Presentation

Julian Oram Presentation

The final guest speaker Julian Oram, Deputy Head of Action Aid UK’s Trade and Corporates team, presented the picture from the point of view of campaigning bodies concerned with the labour conditions in global supply chains.  Julian placed particular emphasis on the increasing prominence of the major supermarket chains and the influence they wielded over producer companies like Chiquita. Not only in terms of product quality and delivery schedules, but also in respect of the social credentials producers and suppliers were expected to meet in order to supply supermarkets.

 

All of the presentations made led to a very lively debate on the role of the various social actors involved in the global banana supply chain, and ultimately how labour conditions for workers could be improved.  There were a number of issues raised: the dominance of the supermarkets in global supply chains; how to enforce labour codes of conduct throughout the global banana supply chain, including secondary sources of supply; the role of supranational bodies, such as United Nations agencies in promoting social and environmental standards, and the brokering role of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in terms of the implementation process of codes and standards in the chain.  These issues were debated in a robust and engaging way by all present. 

Pam Robinson (robinsonpk@cardiff.ac.uk)

 

Other information

Open To: Public