Improving working conditions on banana plantations across Ecuador

26 Feb 2018 The use of an Occupational Health and Safety training manual is currently being piloted in Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter of bananas.

Bananas are a key fresh produce category for retailers around the world. However, the sector has a controversial history of environmental and social challenges, particularly regarding the health and safety of banana workers. The relationship between workers and employers is often polarized, particularly in Latin America. In addition, workers typically have poor representation through unions.

Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas. A significant step in the banana sector has been the alignment of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture, Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), and big producers behind the Occupational Health and Safety training manual that has been developed under the Banana Occupational Health and Safety Initiative (BOHESI), helping to ensure its country-wide roll-out. The manual has also received support from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Social Protection Division of the FAO. The BOHESI manual will soon be distributed to union workers, public extension agents, and company workers through a train-the-trainer model, and has the potential to impact the labor rights and working conditions of approximately 55,000 Ecuadorian farmworkers.

BOHESI was conceptualized in 2014 under IDH’s Sustainability Initiative Fruit and Vegetables (SIFAV) in response to the challenges around the health and safety of banana workers. BOHESI has been developed in partnership with Solidaridad, Banana Link, and the World Banana Forum, and seeks to convene the global banana sector around more socially responsible banana production, improve the living standards of workers (particularly in relation to Health and Safety), farmers and surrounding communities.

The objective of the Occupational Health and Safety training manual is to build health and safety knowledge and capacity within the banana sector and support the functioning of health and safety committees at plantation level. The manual details health and safety risk assessment methodologies and management systems, together with guidelines for the formation of health and safety committees. The use of the BOHESI manual is currently being piloted in Ecuador.

The manual, and the alignment of the government, workers union and big producers behind it really is an important milestone, one that IDH is certainly proud to be a part of. And, Ecuador is just the start – the banana sector of Cameroon is being engaged through a similar process. Many of the project’s partner companies also have a global sourcing base; in time, BOHESI aims to make a positive contribution to the labor rights and working conditions of banana workers globally.

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