Blog: Make Fruit Fair visit to Fairtrade plantations in Ghana
Friday 7 October
Labour Ministry and Ghana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU)
Rather than visiting plantations, today we had meetings in Accra:
Chief Labour Officer
On World Decent Work Day, our meeting with Chief Labour Officer, Eugene Korletey, gave us an opportunity to hear from the Government of Ghana how they seek to ensure workers have Decent Work, from the official responsible for labour relations in the country.
Ghana is a progressive country when it comes labour legislation, having ratified all relevant ILO conventions, meaning that, for example, women have entitlement to maternity leave, while the government has established creches, and supports women to breast feed.
Labour relations is very much a matter for tri-partate consultation between government, employers and trade unions, with a tri-partite commission overseeing measures, such as setting the minimum wage. Meanwhile, a Labour Inspectorate has powers to enter any business to check it is complying with labour legislation requirements, including such matters as salary levels, working hours etc.
The Chief Labour Officer stressed the comittment of all parties to effective tri-partate consultation, that is observed in a true spirit of co-operation.
We also briefly met GAWU General Secretary, Kingsley Offei Nkansah, who shared with us his views and hopes for continued organising of workers in tropical fruit supply chains.
Thursday 6 October
Gold Coast Fruits
Gold Coast Fruits is a 500 hectare Fairtrade pineapple producer supplying The Co-op and Sainsbury’s in the UK, along with a number of retailers across Europe.
Our day at Gold Coast started early, attending a morning muster before work, which provides an opportunity for union representatives to talk to the 170 workers before they head out to work. Comfort, the union representative that led the muster is one of those trained by our recent education and empowerment programme.
On this occasion she was talking to the workers about the need to report incidents of sexual harassment at work. The fact that sexual harassment is now acknowledged in the workplace, and that a female union representative can stand up in front of workers and address the issue is among the many achievements of our programme.
In further testament to the empowerment of women at Gold Coast Fruits, we interviewed the first ever female chair of the workplace health and safety committee, thanks to training on health and safety and gender rights.
Touring the plantation we also noted other indicators of improvements in working practices that have been introduced as a result of unions being better able to raise workplace issues with company management, including:
- All the workers are supplied with protective equipment including boots and long sleeve gloves, necessary for working with pineapple plants.
- Toilet facilities for workers in the field.
- Health and safety warning and information signs.
- Secure lockers for workers to store clothing.
- Protective clothing for those working with chemicals.
In meeting with plantation management they explained the importance to them of the fixed Fairtrade minimum price. They also told us that they have secured capital investment to allow them to significantly expand their operations. In the afternoon we attended a union training session on collective bargaining in which the students role-played negotiating with management. The training helps build the negotiating skills of union reps whilst also identifying the challenges it presents.
And what’s more, their pineapples are sweet and incredibly delicious!
Wednesday 5 October
Golden Exotics Limited (GEL)
GEL is a Fairtrade banana and pineapple producer in the River Volta area. We visited it’s banana plantation, which consists of six separate farms – five produce bananas using conventional production techniques, while the sixth produces organic banan
as. GEL has plans to add a further organic farm in 2017.
At our meeting with GEL management and unions, it was clear that the company celebrates its Fairtrade partnership, which fits with the ethos of the company. It was liberating to hear of their positive and collaborative relationship with the unions on the plantation, and the work of the Fairtrade Premium Committee.
The drier climate in Ghana, in comparison to Latin America, is ideal for organic production of the smaller sweeter bananas popular in the Nordic countries of Europe. Among elements of GEL’s commitment to environmental standards, they produce their own organic compost while also recycling all plastic used in the production process.
In terms of their social commitment, we visited the company funded clinic which provides healthcare to all workers. Having their own clinic also allows GEL to identify occupational illnesses, and the doctor at the clinic can recommend a move to different duties for a worker, if necessary. The also have their own pharmacy, while their laboratory enables them to identify health trends, which include the recent appearance of lifestyle diseases like obesity. HIV is endemic in Ghana.
Tuesday 4 October
Volta River Estates Limited (VREL)
VREL is a Fairtrade certified plantation close to Lake Volta, which exports Fairtrade bananas to the UK. VREL was first certified in 1996, and as Director of Agriculture, Anthony Kofi Blay, told us, when we met this morning: “ Without any doubt, without the Fairtrade label, VREL could not have survived until now, mainly because of the guaranteed minimum price offered by Fairtrade”
Fairtrade premium supporting social projects
Thanks to the Fairtrade premium they receive as part of certification, VREL has undertaken a number of projects to improve socio-economic conditions in the communities within which it operates. This includes the provision of school blocks in three communities, provision of a computer training centre, a hospital administrative block, provision of toilet facilities in two communities, construction of drinking water facilities, scholarships and educational grants and paying health insurance premiums for workers and their families.
In addition, VREL has, in recent years been able to pay wages about 20-30% above the national minimum wage and provide three months maternity leave for female employees.
Trade union empowerment training
In the afternoon we attended a GAWU training session to educate workers and their union representatives on their rights. These types of training sessions were run by GAWU during the recent three year Banana Link programme of training in Ghana and Cameroon, which has enable workers to negotiate better wages and working conditions.
Friday 30 September 2016
Banana Link, the UK partner in Make Fruit Fair!, is going to be visiting Fairtrade banana and pineapple plantations in Ghana this coming week, and we will be posting a daily blog to let you know what we see and hear on the visit.
The purpose of this trip is to take a group of journalists from different European countries to showcase good practice to demonstrate to stakeholders, including consumers and retailers, what we are asking for through the Make Fruit Fair campaign. Africa is an increasingly important source of bananas, and other fresh produce, to European retailers. This does come with challenges however we believe that tropical fruit export production in Ghana provides examples of what can be achieved through the work of unions, companies, certifiers and consumers themselves.
Most banana and pineapple production in Ghana is Fairtrade certified and the biggest banana exporting company, Golden Exotics, is developing organic production. Trade unions are free to organise and collectively bargain. Our latest field research shows the majority of workers believe they earn enough to cover their basic household costs.
A recent Comic Relief funded programme coordinated by Banana Link has increased awareness among workers of their rights and enhanced representative skills to secure these. Fairtrade Africa is supporting further capacity building for trade unions and empowerment for workers.
The visit will provide an opportunity to talk directly with:
- fruit companies about their social and environmental policies
- Fairtrade representatives to learn more about the wide ranging impact of certification including worker empowerment and work towards living wages
- trade union organisers about their work with members at plantation level, and how this is supported at national, regional and international levels
- the Labour Ministry about labour legislation and social dialogue
- workers and representatives about their working conditions and livelihoods
- We are keen to show that bananas and pineapples can be grown and traded with respect for workers’ rights, their communities and the environment, and that plantations in Ghana illustrate to the broader industry that production can be both ethical and sustainable.
This trip is being coordinated by Banana Link in partnership with IUF Africa and GAWU, the General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana TUC. It is funded by the EC co-financed Make Fruit Fair consortium.
Plantations on our visit
Volta River Estates Limited (VREL)
Volta River Estate Limited (VREL) consists of 5 farms on the banks of the Volta River, south of Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in Africa. VREL exports 85% of its bananas to Europe with AgroFair, a company whose Fairtrade banana producers, mango and pineapple throughout the developing world are the owners. VREL is a shareholder of AgroFair.
In 1996 VREL became the first producer in Africa to achieve Fairtrade certification.
In the environmental field, VREL makes limited use of pesticides. Instead, VREL uses a large workforce and employs more than 500 permanent workers in a region severely affected by unemployment region. VREL employees own a 25% stake in the company.
VREL was audited for EUREPGAP certification in September 2002 and has been certified. VREL received a number of awards, including the “National Merit Export” in 1995.
In 2001, VREL began a process of conversion to organic farming with 3 of its 5 farms are certified organic.
VREL exports 85% of its production in the Oke and EkoOké brands to Europe with AgroFair, a fairtrade company owned 50% by the producers of bananas, mangoes and pineapples worldwide and whose shareholder is VREL.
Golden Exotics Limited (GEL)
Golden Exotics Limited (GEL) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Compagnie Fruitière, a French company created in 1939, and based in Marseille (France). Compagnie Fruitiere’s share capital is held by the French founding family (60%) and the American group Dole (40%).
Created in 2003, the company Golden Exotics Limited (GEL) is the leading main plantation of bananas and pineapples in Ghana.
GEL runs two plantations which, together, cover a surface area of 3 500 hectares. One of them is devoted to pineapples and harvests 10 000 tons per year. The other, more to the North, concentrates on bananas and regularly increases its production which now reaches 50 000 tons.
This growth has been continued by the expansion of the farmed areas, bringing them to 1 500 hectares. GEL now has almost 2 400 staff members.
GEL is certified Globalgap®, and Fairtrade – Max Havelaar
In 2013, with the renewal of the banana certification and obtaining the certification for the production of pineapples, GEL became the first 100% Fairtrade plantation in Africa.
Since July 2014, the new banana plots have also been certified “Organic”. Therefore GEL can market conventional bananas as well as organic and organic fairtrade.
Gold Coast Fruits
Gold Coast Fruits is a German/Ghanaian/British 500 hectares pineapple farm located in Ghana – West Africa, right at the heart of the pineapple belt, at the Otaten village/Adeiso town 60 km west from the capital city Accra and 80 km from the seaport Tema.
Established in 2005 by Dominik Klotzbach, it currently has almost 400 hectares of planted fruits. Today we are the 4th largest pineapple exporter, shipping our products to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Committed to a sustainable business model, Gold Coast Fruits are Fair Trade certified and the first pineapple farm in Africa to acquire a Carbon Footprint certificate (PAS 2050).
The Fair Trade contracts are with two major importers in The Netherlands and in Switzerland who serve markets in the U.K., Holland, Italy up to Scandinavia. Conventional sales are made to buyers in France, Switzerland and Holland for the European Market, in Morocco for the North African market and in Dubai for the Middle East market.
Banana Link education and empowerment programme
Between 2013 and 2016 Banana Link coordinated an education programme to empower workers and their unions to secure the key elements of the ILO’s Decent Work agenda.
Research conducted during the programme demonstrated measurable improvements in important aspects of workers’ lives, including the negotiation of significant wage increases, threefold increases in awareness of labour rights, reductions in working hours and increased overtime payments, greater provision of personal protective equipment, and significantly fewer workplace accidents and work related illnesses.
By project end:
- 54% of workers reported earning enough to cover basic household costs
- 66% of workers knew their labour rights and 80% had attended a workshop.
- 97% of workers received personal protective equipment.
The skills of union representatives have been developed, with employers and the union subsequently reporting significantly enhanced social dialogue. Unions across the sector have been strengthened through the creation of the IUF Africa Banana Workers’ Network.
Watch this video in which programme participants talk about how they benefited from the programme: