In April 2014, CGT Honduras and Fairfood International signed an agreement to implement a campaign benefiting around five thousand workers on the melon farms located in the Golfo de Fonseca region in Honduras. The union, which received training in 2013 to design effective campaigns, developed a campaign proposal to improve working conditions in the melon industry. The CGT subsequently received funding to implement their campaign, which meant the learning cycle was completed. This is the cornerstone of the ‘learning by doing’ approach of Fairfood International’s WE Project.
The campaign, which is currently being implemented, is promoting the distribution and use of protective gear to workers in the melon industry. Read more about the most recent outcomes of the campaign in the updates section.
In 2013 Fairfood, trained and supported six labour unions in developing campaign plans to improve the working conditions of their members, with the financial support of CNV Internationaal. During the course of the Workers Empowerment Project (the WE project), the unions chose sector-specific sector changes to work on.
CGT in Honduras
The export-oriented melon industry in the deprived region of Choluteca has grown in the last decade, but workers don’t reap the benefits of this booming industry. Research done in this area indicates several issues affecting the workers’ wellbeing. Lack of protective gear appears to be at the root of health issues affecting many workers. To tackle this problem CGT has developed an intervention strategy aimed at reducing workers’ risk of exposure to harmful substances. The campaign aims to ensure 5000 workers of the melon industry will be provided with and use adequate protective equipment.
CMTC in Costa Rica
CMTC focuses their proposal on sugarcane, an industry in which there are a lot of health risks for workers. Together with the biggest sugarcane ingenio in Costa Rica, CMTC wants to implement a training program for their employees: first,to increase awareness among the workers on the health risks associated with the cultivation and processing of the sugarcane and secondly, to train employees on how to minimise their risks at work.Topics of these trainings include `handling chemicals` and `how to use personal safety equipment in the field and the mill`.
CGT in Colombia
The banana industry in the Urabá region has suffered a decline in importance in the last years while recent international trade agreements trigger the interest of investors in non- traditional crops, such as pineapple. This has given rise to the expansion of pineapple plantations in the region, which is a more labour- intensive crop than banana, but a less organised sector. According to research done by CGT Colombia, about 2000 currently affiliated banana workers are at risk of losing their jobs or are dealing with worse working conditions in the pineapple sector. Anticipating this undesirable situation, CGT Colombia proposed a campaign aimed at ensuring that these workers preserve their current working conditions even in the event they have to shift to the pineapple plantations.
KSBSI in Indonesia
Outsourcing workers has become a common practice now in many palm oil businesses in the Riau region. According to research done by KSBSI, this has brought negative impacts to the labour conditions of about 3,000 outsourced workers in palm oil companies in different areas. Some of the pressing issues are low wages, lack of/few allowances, lack of occupational safety and health standards, social security and medical treatment. To tackle this problem KSBSI has developed a campaign proposal aimed at promoting the improvement of working conditions for outsourcing workers in palm oil companies in Riau. For doing so, the union plans to develop the networking, lobbying and campaigning capacities of 150 local trade union officers.
GFL in Ghana
Child labour has been a worrying trend in the cocoa industry in Ghana. Research done by GFL has indicated that despite the establishment of government agencies over the years, child labour still exists.Therefore, the major focus of their campaign proposal is to create awareness among farmers on the negative effects of engaging their children to work on the cocoa plantations.
CONSAWU in South Africa
CONSAWU has recognised the need to improve the working and living conditions of farm workers in the fruit industry. Their campaign proposal aims at gaining the support of agricultural workers of the West Cape Province in the SIZA Initiative. The SIZA Initiative is an ethical trade programme which includes a code of conduct, launched by the fruit companies in South Africa, in which CONSAWU is involved. They strongly believe in social dialogue and by bringing all stakeholders together in regional hubs they envision to improve the working conditions of the workers.
An independent jury (consisting of members from both Fairfood and CNV that have no link with the project) has rated the proposal of CGT in Honduras highest, therefore they will receive additional funding from CNV Internationaal for implementing their campaign in 2014. The other unions will be further supported by Fairfood to improve their proposals and to seek funding for their implementation.
After a few years trajectory, labour union confederations started to show different needs. Some of them had integrated previous years’ skills and knowledge while others had not. In addition, a new labour union joined the project. Fairfood decided to tailor the capacity development activities to the needs of each of these groups.
By the end of the year, CGT Honduras had gained basic research knowledge on doing research on agricultural supply chains. KSBSI in Indonesia and CGT in Colombia had consolidated the knowledge acquired in the previous year and had improved their skills with regard to field data collection.
Finally, the labour unions that had shown more maturity in conducting research began to focus in finding solutions for the sustainability issues they had identified in previous years. The three confederations that were in this group improved their knowledge and ability to engage with sustainability initiatives. These organisations were CMTC in Costa Rica, GFL in Ghana and CONSAWU in South Africa.
Out of the three organisations, CONSAWU achieved the most impressive results. While conducting research within the WE Project, they became aware of a sustainability initiative focused on the fruit sector called SIZA. The union realised the potential of engaging positively with the industry through this type of mechanism and, after advocating and lobbying, finally decided to become part of it. The union then designed a campaign aimed at establishing regional hubs, in which representatives of workers and the fruit sector can engage in positive dialogue towards improvements of labour conditions on fruit-producing farms through the SIZA initiative.
To foster the exchange of information and experiences between the participants, Fairfood facilitated a 5-day South-South exchange among Latin American labour unions in Costa Rica. The South-South exchange strived to provide a space for face to face interactions among teams that had carried out research that year. The event was not organised as a training session, but as a space for experience exchange and knowledge building.
During the event, unions clearly showed that they were willing to go one step further and use the research findings in advocacy work. They asked Fairfood for direct support and advice on how to carry out campaigns. This was a very important moment for reflection as the feedback provided by unions led to a shift in the entire approach of the project, from focusing on capacity development to conduct research to focusing on capacity development for campaigning.
In 2011, the project placed a large emphasis on improving knowledge exchange among organisations and on allowing a greater integration of the project in each labour union’s activities.
With this in mind, Fairfood organised a kick-off conference where representatives of all five participating partner labour unions in the WE project came to Amsterdam for a three day conference. The main goal of the event was to create a solid base for further cooperation during the year. In addition, participants received guidelines and training on how to carry out desk research for sector, value chain mapping and on gender.
By the end of the year, each of the labour union confederations (GFL in Ghana, KSBSI in Indonesia, CMTC in Costa Rica, CONSAWU in South Africa and CGT in Colombia) developed three research assignments. First, each of them conducted a study of the main agricultural sectors in their country and the main sustainability issues affecting them. This was done through desk research.
After, each labour union chose two sectors based on their own interests and carried out a study on gender issues and a value chain map. The freedom of choosing the sectors that were interesting to them facilitated the incorporation of the research results on the labour unions’ core work. For example, CONSAWU in South Africa focused their research on the fruit sector; the CMTC in Costa Rica focused it on sugarcane and coffee. Both confederations continued working on these sectors in the following years, which shows the usefulness of the WE project for their core work.
Fairfood and CNV began their collaboration in 2008 with the implementation of a pilot project on improving research skills which was undertaken by six CNV labour union partners in low and middle income countries. These partners were recruited from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Ghana, South Africa, Chile and Costa Rica.
The aim was to give Fairfood a better insight in the social and economic issues in certain food sectors in those countries. Furthermore, the project was aimed at enhancing the knowledge and research capacities among local labour unions, especially related to carrying out assurance procedures and desk research on sector and sustainability issues.
Unions worked on different assignments under the supervision and advice of Fairfood. In total, 18 assignments were produced about sectors such as tea, bananas or pineapples; and about issues like lack of freedom of association, gender or corruption. Fairfood incorporated the findings of some of these research assignments in their advocacy work towards companies.