Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
URGENT ACTION: Colombian Flower Workers Strike to Protest Wage Theft!
Hundreds of flower workers in Colombia been striking to protest the failure of the country’s largest grower to pay wages and legally-required benefits. The most recent strikes began on November 16 when flower workers at the Guacarí plantation in Zipaquira, Colombia, near Bogotá, went on strike in response to Floramerica’s labor rights violations. These include withholding pay for more than a month and neglecting to provide other legally-required benefits for several months, including social security and health insurance.
On December 1, striking workers at the Guacari plantation were attacked by thugs reportedly urged on by local managers. In early December, workers at several of the company’s other plantations, including Splendor, went on strike as well. Workers at many of the company's plantations are still owed wages and benefits. Union leaders are also concerned that the company is using the current crisis as an opportunity to replace permanent workers with contract labor.
The struggle at the Guacarí plantation and other FlorAmerica plantaions highlights the systemic labor rights violations affecting flower workers in Colombia. On September 7, 2010, workers on the Guacarí plantation organized a union in response to the company’s failure to pay its workers in more than a month or make the legally-required health care and social security contributions for more than three months. Soon after the formation of the new union, Sintraguacarí, affiliated to Untraflores, seven prominent union members were illegally fired.
On September 18, the Sintraguacarí union went on strike, facing violence as the police used tear gas and physical force to intimidate strikers. Several workers were injured.
Guacarí is one of the plantations owned by Floramerica, which took over Dole’s flower operations in Colombia in 2009.
On December 1, workers at the Guacari plantation were attacked by thugs reportedly urged on by local managers. In early Decmeber, workers at the Fragancia and Splendor plantations, where unions won collective bargaining agreements in 2008 with the support of USLEAP and others, also went out on strike to protest the company's failure to pay wages in November and failure to provide for months legally-required benefits. Union leaders are concerned that the company will use the crisis to replace permanent workers with contract or “indirect” workers who have virtually no legal protections and cannot form a union.
According to the Sunburst Farms website, the Nannetti Family purchased Floramerica-Sunburst Farms from Dole Fresh Flowers on January 16, 2009, creating one of the largest flower growing and distributing operations in the world. Although Sunburst has claimed in e-mails to USLEAP that it is only the flower distributor for Floramerica and is therefore relieved of responsibility to Colombian workers, its website defines Floramerica as the “growing operation of Sunburst Farms.” Regardless, it is the responsibility of both growers and distributors to ensure that they treat their workers with dignity and respect and abide by national labor laws.
Ironically, the FlorAmerica-Sunburst plantations were until recently Rainforest Alliance-certified, highlighted on the Sunburst website until early 2011 as evidence of the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. Soon after Rainforest Alliance agreed to look into the reports of worker rights violations late last fall, the company reportedly decided to opt out of the program, although it continued for several months more to report it was Rainforest Alliance-certified.
Today, the situation at FlorAmerica-Sunburst plantations remains essentially the same. The company owes workers backpay and legally-required health care and social security contributions. No one has been arrersted for the attacks on the Guacari workers on December 1 while the company has instead filed criminal charges against workers who were engaged in peaceful protests over the company's failure to meet its legal obligations.
Take action now! Urge Sunburst Farms to respect the basic rights of workers at the Guacarí, Fragancia Herradura, Fragancia Ipanema, and Splendor El Rosal plantations and negotiate with democratic unions to ensure that workers receive what they are legally owed and are not replaced by contract or “indirect” labor. Simultaneously, urge the Colombian Minister of Social Protection to hold Floramerica-Sunburst responsible for past and present violations of worker rights.
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!