Women make an important contribution in Chiquita’s banana farming business. Approximately 2,800 women, equivalent to 16 percent of total employees, are employed in production operations in Latin America. In administrative and supervisory positions, the percentage is higher at 21 percent. In 2011, the company and trade unions formed the IUF/COLSIBA/Chiquita Women’s Committee, which seeks improvement for women working in the banana farms. Its main goal is to promote and reinforce a safe workplace, free of harassment, exclusion or inequality, and to improve the opportunities available to women by supporting their personal and professional development. An actual example from the recent past is the creation of 75 new jobs for women on our Panamanian farms in Sigatoka control.

Where It Started

In 2001, Chiquita became the first – and to date the only – company in the sector to sign an International Framework Agreement with global and regional trade union organizations. To underline its importance, Juan Somavía, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), witnessed the signing of the IUF/ COLSIBA/Chiquita Agreement on Freedom of Association, Minimum Labor Standards and Employment in Latin America Banana Operations. He joined leaders of Chiquita; the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF); and the Latin American Coordinator of Banana and Agro-industrial Unions (COLSIBA).

The actual original document

Since then, the Joint Review Committee has met at least twice a year to oversee the application of this agreement and to handle any issues that negotiations with local trade unions have not resolved satisfactorily. In April 2011, the women participating at the Joint Review Committee meeting identified the need and opportunity to work together constructively to tackle gender issues in banana farms, and formed the Women’s Committee. Its founding members are Sue Longley and Barbro Budin of the IUF; Iris Munguía, Adela Torres and Mireya Rodríguez of COLSIBA; Irene Sandoval, Sandra Campos and Marco La Touche of Chiquita. At its first meeting in August 2011, the committee developed a report on the issues and actions to execute together, which they presented at the next Joint Review Committee Meeting. The Women’s Committee called for the following steps:

  1. Strengthen Chiquita’s policies to further improve the working conditions of women at company farms:
    • Include a clause on improved conditions for women in the IUF/COLSIBA/Chiquita Agreement
    • Include the same clause in all collective bargaining agreements
  2. Develop an awareness and information campaign for women to advance technical skills, women’s rights, health and safety, as well as to provide role models, beginning with a pilot program in Panama
  3. Develop plans to increase employment opportunities for women

Work of the Committee

  • A total of 10 meetings were held in 2011 and 2012
  • Committee members representing IUF, COLSIBA and Chiquita presented at two events in early 2012: the first World Meeting of Women Banana Workers and the World Banana Forum (WBF) in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Participants applauded the effort and suggested expanding the model to other banana companies
  • This innovative model is being included in the agenda of the WBF working group on labor rights and working conditions, to be supported and replicated
  • Finalized the clause to add to the IUF/COLSIBA/Chiquita Framework Agreement
  • Discussed the implementation in 2013 of the pilot project in Panama focused on the improvement of conditions and opportunities for women, with the participation of the company, trade unions, workers and local leaders.

Iris Munguía, coordinator of COLSIBA, said: “Other companies could get involved in similar initiatives because the issues are similar, which means that the solutions may be shared and could work for the industry. “The most important achievement of the Committee has been to sit down at the dialogue table to express and share our points of view, including agreements and disagreements,” added Ms. Munguía. “I think the Women’s Committee is a model that allows us to develop specific processes focused on women’s needs, so other companies will become interested and provide support,” said Adela Torres Valoy, general secretary of SINTRAINAGRO (Colombia) and gender issues coordinator at COLSIBA. “Our biggest achievement so far has been the completion of the clause for inclusion in the Framework Agreement and collective bargaining agreements. We have been able to work very well together.”

Gender Issues on Chiquita’s Agenda

Chiquita does not tolerate discrimination or any form of harassment, as is clearly stated in the Code of Conduct:

At Chiquita, we do not tolerate harassment or any conduct which creates a work environment that is considered intimidating, hostile or offensive. Likewise, unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances or propositions, graphic or verbal comments about an individual, or sexually explicit or offensive jokes, unnecessary touching, and any other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is prohibited.

Any harassment will not be tolerated, regardless of whether you are on company premises or are engaged in off-hours business-related functions, such as holiday parties or business travel. Harassment may be grounds for immediate dismissal, and it can subject both you and the company to severe legal penalties.

We should each help foster a harassment-free work environment by speaking out when a co-worker’s conduct makes us uncomfortable. We strictly prohibit retaliation against employees who report discrimination or harassment.

The role and rights of women emerged as a key area of focus when Chiquita adopted the SA8000 labor rights standard and in 2000 included it in the revised Code of Conduct. This focus has been maintained by the rigorous process of annual SA8000 audits, our internal training and education programs, our “zero tolerance” approach to any violations, our “Helpline” and other systems for complaints and grievances, as well as our work with unions at local and international levels. Establishing the joint Women’s Committee has been a positive step for the banana industry. Its members from the IUF, COLSIBA and Chiquita are focused on making a better workplace environment and training available to women so they are ready to take advantage of opportunities in the years ahead.

‘The dialogue initiated over 10 years ago by the IUF/COLSIBA/Chiquita Framework Agreement has matured and expanded. The parties are working together in a constructive spirit on new solutions. The IUF/COLSIBA/Chiquita Women’s Committee focusing on women’s employment issues in banana operations is an important example of a collaborative process that we expect will lead to more concrete progress on the ground. This process distinguishes Chiquita from the rest of its competitors in the banana industry.’ (Stephen Coats*, Executive Director USLEAP – Labor Education in the Americas Project)

*Stephen Coats, who passed away in April 2013, dedicated his life to improving the working and living condition of farm laborers in Latin America. He will be remembered for his passionate but always thoughtful and balanced advocacy of the rights of workers, which has unquestionably advanced the well-being of agricultural workers in the region.

References (IUF source documents)

–       06/14/01

–       03/23/2003

–       20/04/2011

–       26/08/2013