The Sour Taste of Pineapple

International Labor Rights Forum

SINCE the 1960s, pineapple production has quadrupled and export has tripled worldwide. While profits for some have tremendously expanded under such development, this report demonstrates how pineapple workers, their families and communities, and the environment in the largest pineapple producing nations have not enjoyed the benefits of such growth.

ILRF’s partner labor advocacy NGOs in Costa Rica, ASEPROLA, and in the Philippines, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler), have found abundant evidence that labor rights abuses, inhumane working conditions, and environmental degradation have plagued the industry around the world. These groups conducted field research on pineapple plantations and processing facilities.

Increased corporate control in export supply chains has prevented small farmers and workers in pineapple producing countries from sharing in the products’ growing revenue. Dole and Del Monte, through their subsidiaries, compete as the largest global suppliers of both fresh and processed pineapple as both operate plantations, distribution centers, and processing facilities all over the world. Dole and Del Monte have also been expanding their operations through the purchasing and leasing of new land for pineapple production. Dole’s subsidiary, Dole Philippines dominates the pineapple industry in the Philippines, while Fresh Del Monte’s subsidiary, PINDECO, dominates Costa Rican fresh pineapple production.

The major labor and environmental abuses documented in the report are as follows:

  • Pineapple plantation and processing workers work long hours. On average they work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, often in the hot sun. Both in Costa Rica and the Philippines, unrealistically high production quotas and low piece rate wages have led to long workdays. Work without overtime pay compels workers to work longer in order to make a meager living. Costa Rican workers earn between $1-2 an hour while workers in the Philippines earn even less. The instability and seasonal nature of the work forces workers to maximize their income when the work is available, thus putting their safety at risk. Pineapple workers have not seen their incomes rise as living costs rise. This perpetuates the reality that pineapple workers, like other agricultural workers, live below the poverty line.

  • Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as core labor rights, have been blatantly violated in both Costa Rica and the Philippines according to ILO reports. Union leaders have been systematically fired and laid off to obliterate any union presence in pineapple production. This is particularly true in Costa Rica, where companies install “Permanent Committees,” or company selected worker representatives to replace union leaders. Union representation has also been significantly reduced in the Philippines, due to a widespread increase in contract labor. Less than 2% of workers in Costa Rica are currently unionized and as a result major anti-union actions have been carried out by companies while governments remain complicit.

  • Dole Philippines has been able to evade its responsibilities to its workers by replacing the majority of its regular workforce with contract labor from “labor cooperatives.” Approximately 77% of workers producing pineapple supplied to Dole are contract laborers and cannot be in the union representing regular workers. Contract workers systematically earn less than directly employed, regular workers as a result of production quota systems or piece-rate based remuneration and the lack of ability to engage in collective bargaining. They are denied most of the basic labor rights and social benefits granted to regular workers. Subcontracting labor, which also prevails in Costa Rica, undermines unions, as temporary/contract workers are legally stripped of their rights to organize into unions and bargain collectively. Most women working in the industry are contract workers.

  • Workers are frequently exposed to toxic chemicals through pesticides and fertilizers such as endosulfan in the Philippines, and diuron in Costa Rica. Companies do not always provide proper protective gear and family members or workers are frequently exposed to the chemicals when laundry is done at home. Numerous reports have shown that chemical application in the pineapple fields is more harmful and bothersome to workers than in other agricultural sectors. Side effects range from allergies, nausea and skin rashes to more serious, long term conditions. On average, pineapple plantation workers only have a work life of four years.

  • Pineapple industry expansion has threatened communities and the natural environment in areas of cultivation and processing. Agrochemicals have contaminated the water supplies in pineapple growing regions of Costa Rica and the Philippines. Community groups in Costa Rica claim that small farmers have lost many of their cattle to pests attracted to the pineapple crop. Deforestation and monoculture have altered the biodiversity of the region.

The labor and environmental issues associated with the industry stem from a number of factors. Rapid expansion of the industry has been met with an inability and unwillingness of producing countries to impose regulations, partly as a result of corporate pressure. Trade agreements such as the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership, soon to become the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), have not sufficiently encouraged the enforcement of labor and environmental standards.

The abuses can also be attributed to more systematic factors surrounding the international agricultural supply chains. Multinational companies that buy and distribute pineapples are pressured into reducing costs to be able to compete for a place on the supermarket shelf. Since input costs such as fertilizers and gas are often fixed or rising, supplier companies such as Dole and Del Monte will often seek to maximize profits by minimizing their labor costs. Labor costs only account for a small percentage of the total selling price of the pineapples. Nevertheless, these companies consistently take advantage of high unemployment, migrant workers and weak labor standards in impoverished regions like Central America and Southeast Asia.

ILRF recommends that companies in the pineapple supply chain follow all national and international labor laws; take a positive, public position in support of legal restrictions on the abuse of short term contract labor and dispatched labor schemes; respect workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining; introduce fair production quotas and fair wages; provide protective equipment to guard against agrochemicals and reduce chemical use.

We recommend that the US government push both the Costa Rican and Filipino governments, as trading partners, to strengthen, rather than weaken, their labor laws. These governments should grant equal rights to temporary, contingent, or contract workers in regards to remuneration, workday, rights to join a union and receive social benefits, and any other rights granted to regular workers. Finally, we ask that US consumers advocate for pineapple workers through government and corporate pressure.

Dole is currently seeking to increase its investment in the Philippines by expanding production, and is requesting special trade benefits from the U.S. government to help fund the expansion. ILRF has testified that before any additional special benefits are granted to fuel Dole’s expansion, U.S. government officials must require that Dole take measures to ensure that pineapple workers enjoy their internationally recognized rights and decent working conditions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: