Ecuadorean Banana Cluster says commitment to living wage is enshrined in national law

The Ecuadorean Banana Cluster gathered at last week’s Fruit Attraction in Madrid to highlight the country’s credentials as an ethical supplier and reiterate calls for European retailers to take a more proactive stance on the application of shared responsibility within the banana supply chain.

José Antonio Hidalgo, left and Rirchard Salazar at Fruit Attraction

José Antonio Hidalgo, left and Rirchard Salazar at Fruit Attraction

Ecuador’s commitment to ensuring a living wage for its banana sector workforce is enshrined in the country’s constitution, which defines a legally binding living wage for every worker in the country, established annually through an official negotiation process convened by the national labour authority, called the National Wage Council, between employers and formally established labour organisations.

Moreover, the Ecuadorean banana industry recently asked the Ministry of Labour to establish an Official Living Wage Compliance Verification to ensure that wages paid to banana industry employees align with the criteria of a living wage in accordance with the requirements of international markets.

José Antonio Hidalgo, executive director of banana exporter association AEBE and coordinator of the Ecuadorean Banana Cluster, pointed out that the banana sector’s compliance with living wages is also confirmed by independent reports and exceeds the thresholds of international organisations. “The total salary of a banana worker in Ecuador (base salary + additional benefits) surpasses the living wage threshold set by the Global Living Wage Coalition and the Anker Living Wage Income Research Institute,” he said.

“Moreover, Ecuador banana sector’s compliance with living wages is stated by Rainforest Alliance, which exempt compliant farmers from providing additional information on living wages under the certification scheme.

“At the beginning of this year, a report by GIZ within the framework of the German Retailer Working Group showed that, among the analysed farms that export Ecuadorean bananas to Germany, 99.36 per cent of workers received a living wage. It is therefore essential to highlight the advanced situation of Ecuador and foresee exemptions for compliant farmers in any of the living-wage initiatives when discussing a harmonised approach to the topic under the World Banana Forum.”

The Ecuadorean Banana Cluster has been a driving force behind the setup of the multi-stakeholder Working Group on Living Wages of the World Banana Forum, which gathers all the segment of the banana chain, as well as NGOs and certifiers.

While calling for a broader participation of retailers, the Cluster also looks at the upcoming months, and at how social sustainability can be effectively realised via the application of the shared responsibility concept.

Richard Salazar, executive director of Acorbanec, commented: “The matter of living wages in Ecuador cannot be discussed separately from the issue of a fair price for bananas.

Salazar noted that in the run-up to the upcoming negotiations on the contracts for 2024, “retailers have the chance to show commitment to a true shared responsibility. This requires long-term contractual engagements on the volume of products, based on fair prices developed with a well-recognised sustainability certification scheme which is Fairtrade, which takes into account the peculiarities of each producing country”.

Salazar said farmers who comply with the living wage policy – as is the case in Ecuador – should be exempt from the salary matrix, homologating the information already presented to their national labour authority in order not to overload producers with more administrative processes and costs of audits.

Instead, he said “negotiations should be focused on long-term contracts and increased volumes, as an incentive for and acknowledgement of a country that is in full compliance”.

Once again, the Cluster called on the European retailers take a more proactive stance on the application of shared responsibility by paying a fair price for bananas and recognise the different situations of each producing countries regarding living wage, noting that this would contribute to “achieving a true environmental, economic, and social sustainability in the banana chain”.