Investigations of certified fruit plantations in Ecuador and Costa Rica

The Rainforest Alliance and SAN provide the following update on actions the organizations have undertaken after the late May publication of the Oxfam-DE report, Sweet Fruit, bitter truth, which questioned worker and environmental issues on banana and pineapple plantations in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

  • As noted in our original statement the SAN immediately commissioned two research audits to determine whether farms in Ecuador and Costa Rica were in breach of the criteria required for Rainforest Alliance certification. The auditors spoke with 90 farm workers in total. The two farms complied with SAN certification requirements and maintain their certification. The farms continue to work on continuous improvement criteria on which some of the farms showed non-compliances during the research audit;
  • The SAN, Rainforest Alliance, Oxfam-DE and Oxfam-DE’s partners from Costa Rica and Ecuador sat together in June in Berlin, Germany to discuss the main findings of the Oxfam report and our research audits;
  • A pineapple farm mentioned in the Oxfam-DE report, has had its regular annual audit. This audit paid special attention to areas of concern from Oxfam-DE’s report; in total 60 interviews were held focused on compliance with our social, labor and environmental requirements. The farm was found to be in compliance with the certification requirements and maintains its certification;
  • A SAN senior technical specialist from Guatemala travelled to Ecuador and spent several days with the trade union association ASTAC (Asociación Sindical of Trabajadores Agrícolas Bananeros y Campesinos), Oxfam’s local partner. Over 40 banana farm workers, the SAN specialist, ASTAC’s leader Jorge Acosta and several other ASTAC leaders discussed in depth concerns around freedom of association and aerial fumigations. SAN and ASTAC will continue to build a constructive relationship, as it is in our common interest to improve conditions for workers on Ecuadorian banana farms;
  • In Ecuador, another certified banana farm is undergoing a research audit process this week; one of the most experienced lead auditors from Central America (accredited by SAN) has been brought in to assist with the audit; 
  • In Costa Rica, senior SAN staff recently met with two unions active on banana plantations. SAN and Rainforest Alliance are committed to ongoing and constructive discussions with trade unions that will contribute to more effective auditing and monitoring;
  • Oxfam-DE recently met with a representative from the retailer Lidl and union representatives at one of the pineapple farms mentioned in the Oxfam-DE report in Costa Rica. A SAN representative was present and participated in that meeting.  The meeting enabled parties to further discuss the issues Oxfam have highlighted.  This is part of the ongoing dialogue between the Rainforest Alliance, SAN and Oxfam as set out in our joint statement of 16th June 2016.

While our investigations into the Oxfam allegations on specific farms are now complete, dialogue with Oxfam and local trade unions around the issues raised by the report is ongoing.

Wider Engagement

The SAN / Rainforest Alliance certification scheme adheres to strict protocols. Certificate holders who do not comply with the SAN certification requirements, lose their certification. To date in 2016, in total 93 farms have lost their certificate because they failed to implement sustainable agriculture practices according to the SAN’s requirements. In Ecuador alone, 20 farms with different crops have lost their certificates (though these were unrelated to claims made in the Oxfam-DE report); in Costa Rica, four farms have been decertified due to not meeting the certification requirements.

Both the Rainforest Alliance and SAN continue to work closely with retailers and the banana and pineapple sectors to explore what more can be done beyond certification to address sustainability issues and to ensure retailers and the sectors more broadly are playing their full part in supporting the changes needed. Rainforest Alliance has recently joined the World Banana Forum, a multi-stakeholder platform that promotes open dialogue on challenges facing the banana industry.

The Rainforest Alliance and SAN are active members of the Global Living Wage Coalition. Together with this coalition we are working to establish living wage benchmarks for countries around the world, with living wage calculations expected for Costa Rica and Ecuador by early 2017. Rainforest Alliance is also working with fruit sector companies to understand and progress toward living wages. Earlier this month, the SAN facilitated a workshop with fruit sector unions in Costa Rica to discuss the living wage concept and methodology.

Launch of the New 2017 SAN Standard

In September 2016 SAN launched an updated standard and certification process; the 2017 SAN Standard.  This will require a stronger compliance level over time from farmers and will further strengthen how certification audits are undertaken (for example, certificate holders will be subject to unannounced or short-noticed regular audits at any time). The 2017 SAN Standard will apply to all audits that take place after July 2017.

We believe the 2017 SAN Standard represents a major step forward in delivering sustainability outcomes on farms and for farm workers.  However, many of the problems faced on farms and by workers are systemic in nature. They cannot be solved quickly and cannot be solved by certification and certification standards alone. Bigger issues around workers’ and human rights—including national legislation, local enforcement and governance, and power imbalances in the supply chain—can be addressed only through determined cooperation between local, national, and international actors from civil society, the private sector, and government.

Andi Mustika gathering data on a cocoa farm

Measuring Our Impact

To be certain that our initiatives are effectively advancing our mission, we conduct scientific research and analyze relevant studies done by other researchers.

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