Fw: Ecuador: Workers pay brutal price for cheap fruit]

 Subject: Ecuador: Workers pay brutal price for cheap fruit
 Date: 17 Jun 2002 01:37:08 -0700
 The Sunday Herald
 June 16, 2002
 Workers pay brutal price for cheap fruit
 >From Elizabeth Mistry
 When Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's richest man, sent an army
 of hired muscle to break up a strike at his
 plantation, it wasn't entirely unexpected because
 violence is a common response by the banana barons who
 want to hang on to control of the multi-million pound
 business. But Noboa, who promotes himself as a man of
 the people, could be Ecuador's next president and the
 incident has spread ripples of fear among the region's
 agricultural workers. 
 It was around two o'clock in the morning when masked
 men burst into the makeshift shacks on the Los Alamos
 plantation, less than 50 miles from the country's
 second city, Guayaquil. Strikers were hauled off the
 wooden banana boxes they use as mattresses and told
 they would be shot if they didn't halt the week-long
 In Los Alamos, which is a vast complex of banana
 fields and packing centres, there are no telephones
 and no electricity. Nor is there any medical provision
 for the 1200 workers who have to carry drinking water
 in empty chemical containers, violating the code of
 conduct set up by agrochemical manufacturers, such as
 Syngenta which produces the banana fungicide Amistar
 at its plant in Grangemouth. 
 It is 11 miles up a dirt track to the first packing
 plant where the fruit is wrapped in polythene and
 prepared for shipping to the US and Europe where it is
 sold under the Bonita brand. Banana exports, a
 mainstay of the Ecuadorian economy, are worth about
 $900 million each year. The country produces more than
 a quarter of the world's crop but wages are low.
 Workers at Los Alamos are paid between $25 and $30 for
 an 84-hour week. 
 When union co-ordinator Guillermo Touma, a former
 teenage banana worker, arrived at the plantation, he
 found 33-year-old Mauro Romero lying in a pool of
 blood with a bullet in his leg. For Touma, the
 scenario was hardly a novelty but on that day he was
 accompanied by Jan Nimmo, a Glaswegian artist who is
 also the Scottish coordinator of BananaLink, a British
 Nimmo, who returned to Scotland this week, was shocked
 by what she found. 'When we arrived the place was in
 chaos. The guards had beaten people up, thrown some of
 them into one of the banana transporters and tried to
 shut them in,' she said. Luckily they didn't succeed
 because they would have died in there.
 'I had to dive under the truck and could feel the
 bullets pinging off the side of the vehicle. No police
came until later and it was clear they were not going
 to intervene.' 
 In the report Tainted Harvest, which was issued last
 month, Human Rights Watch slammed the Ecuadorian
 industry for malpractice, including child labour. Ian
 King, senior organiser for the GMB union in Scotland,
 said: ' Conditions won't improve if people stop buying
 Ecuadorian bananas but it would help if people tell
 stores they want fruit that has been produced in
 accordance with fair practice. 
 'Retailers are demanding cheap prices from producers
 but they don't realise the implications for workers
 and families. Standards in Ecuador would appall any
 civil society.'
 Noboa has yet to officially declare himself a
 candidate. He was runner up in 1998, and is believed
 to be waiting until after the World Cup to announce
 plans for his new political party -- the Independent
 Renewal Party of Alvaro Noboa. He insists the protest
 is over, but Touma says it continues with the
 displaced workers camped outside the gates of Los
 Alamos because their homes were flattened and
 belongings and money stolen in the raid. 
 Fenacle, the union federation where Touma works, is
 looking after Romero whose leg was later amputated.
 The hospital initially refused to treat him because
 his employer, a shell company owned by Noboa, hadn't
 paid his social security stamp. He now has little hope
 of providing for his wife and daughter.
 'Our bananas are bonita -- beautiful,' says Touma.
 'But they are produced with our blood. We are paying
 too high a price so you can have cheap fruit.'