The Japanese Sumitomo Corporation has recently been given the green light to take over Fyffes. At the recent Fyffes EGM in Dublin, at which shareholders voted to accept their bid, senior vice-president and general manager of Sumitomo’s food business group, Ted Eguchi, committed the new owners to addressing the issues raised by our campaign, saying, “Obviously when you are in the farming business, you do have those issues. But we have to . . . make sure we do the right thing and we’ll look into what they’re asking for and what they’re protesting about. And if there are things that need to change, they’ll change.”
Sumifru, the banana producing subsidiary of the Sumitomo corporation, is reported to have up to 30,000 employees in its production and trading operations in the Philippines, supplying 30% of the Japanese banana market, and their largest plantation near Davao City covers a full 10,000 hectares.
However, despite its branded banana success in Japan, Sumifru has a pretty unenviable reputation in the Philippines on key issues of labour relations, working conditions and occupational health and safety. It even has its own ‘anti-body’ of trade unions, small growers and civil society organisations specially devoted to trying to rectify the company’s alleged violations of national labour laws. The Banana Industry Growers and Workers Alliance against Sumifru – BIGWAS – has, over the last couple of years, been very vocal in highlighting what they consider to be an attitude of laissez-faire and anti-worker practices. You can read more analysis of the implications of the Fyffes take-over by Sumitomo in the latest edition of Banana Link’s Banana Trade News Bulletin.
This video made last year by Radio New Zealand paints a poor picture of the working conditions and respect for labour rights on their plantations in the Philippines
A recent report by Oxfam in the Philippines – Unmasking the Prejudicial Contracts in the Philippine Banana Industry – details how, banana farmers, most of whom were former workers in banana plantations emancipated through the government’s agrarian reform program, have been embroiled in onerous contracts with banana exporters, including Sumifru, such that they get to see very little of their hard work translated into actual economic improvement. Some have been mired in debt for years. In worse cases, some have been driven back to being farm workers – on their own land.
Land but no freedom: Debt, poverty and human suffering in the Philippine banana trade, a 2018 case study by Oxfam explains how many banana farmers in the Philippines are being pushed deeper into poverty by the companies, like Sumitomo/Sumifru who buy their bananas for export.