Noboa's refusal to respect the rights of its workers coupled with violent intimidation of protesting workers prompted FENACLE (National Federation of Free Peasants and Indigenous People of Ecuador), the Ecuadorian campesino group that has been trying to organize banana workers at the Alamos plantations (see below) and elsewhere, to call for an international boycott of Noboa’s Bonita bananas in 2002.
In the U.S., Bonita bananas were being sold by Costco, as well as hundreds of neighborhood fruit-and-vegetable neighborhood stands. Costco responded to requests to intervene with the Noboa Corporation regarding worker rights in Ecuador in 2002 but to no evident effect. In 2003, at the workers' request, USLEAP made a formal request to Costco to end its business relationship with the Noboa company, noting that this is not a boycott of Costco but of the Bonita bananas it sells. FENACLE subsequently suspended the boycott of Bonita. In 2011, Bonita responded to a new organizing campaign at the Alamos plantations with another anti-union campaign, prompting an international support campaign.
Noboa, the largest banana exporter in Ecuador, was until recent years the fourth largest banana company in the world, following the three U.S.-based giants, Dole, Chiquita, and Del Monte. Noboa markets its bananas under the Bonita label. The owner of the Noboa Company is Alvaro Noboa, who has several times run for President of Ecuador.
Noboa's banana operations are completely non-union. The company has vigorously, and sometimes violently (e.g. in 2002), opposed workers organizing to form unions and gain better wages. Banana workers in Ecuador called for a boycott of Bonita bananas in 2002 but subsequently suspended the boycott.
A struggle of banana workers organizing on Noboa plantations in Ecuador in 2002 also led to an international campaign to pressure Ecuador to reform labor law to remove obstacles that block workers from organizing, as documented by Human Rights Watch.
In 2005, Bonita intervened with an independent supplier to secure a satisfactory resolution in a labor struggle, marking a sharp reversal from the company's earlier behavior. However, the company subsequently refused to intervene with suppliers to ensure respect for core worker rights. In 2011-12, the company responded to another union organizing initiative on its Los Alamos plantations by firing the general secretary of the union, opposing the union's legal registration, and other anti-union measures.
USLEAP and Noboa/Bonita
USLEAP has led U.S. compaign work against Bonita, worked with banana unions in Ecuador to support specific struggles, and supported efforts to reform Ecuador's labor law.
Bonita Workers Attacked in 2002
Workers began organizing at the Noboa's Los Alamos plantations in February 2002, marking the first serious effort to organize in the Ecuadorian banana sector in years. After the Ecuadorian Labor Ministry approved union recognition for about 1,000 banana workers, the company fired union leaders. Workers then went on strike in May 2002.
A couple of hours after midnight on May 16, 2002, hundreds of thugs and security guards, arrived at the plantations and began to violently evict the striking workers. A second attack took place later in the afternoon. Up to two dozen workers were injured in the attacks, some seriously by gunfire. One worker later had his leg amputated due to the shootings. Noboa later personally admitted to having hired the thugs.
The stacked legal system subsequently ruled against the workers. They ended their struggle at the Alamos plantations on November 28, 2002 and returned to work under terms of an agreement that won them health benefits and medical care for injuries resulting from the May 2002 attacks, but little else.
While the Alamos workers' struggle was largely unsuccessful in terms of the workers' primary demands, it was very successful in generating international attention on worker rights in the Ecuadorian banana industry and Ecuador's place in leading a race to the bottom for banana workers throughout Latin America.
In 2003, Los Alamos workers initiated another effort to unionize and filed a request for contract negotiations. Alvaro Noboa immediately fired all workers who signed the petition.
Bonita Hides Behind Ecuadorian Anti-Union Labor Law
In June 2005, Bonita effectively intervened in a labor struggle at the Primavera plantation, an independent supplier, marking a significant departure in the company's previous hands-off approach to worker rights concerns. Under the agreement, all workers who had been fired were reinstated, enrolled in Social Security, and provided compensation for years of service. However, in November 2005, Noboa indicated it was only willing to hold its suppliers to adherence to Ecuadorian labor law, not to international standards. Because Ecuadorian labor law effectively prevented workers from organizing, Noboa's position was unacceptable to USLEAP and other worker rights supporters.
In 2011-12, the company responded to another union organizing initiative on its Los Alamos plantations by firing the general secretary of the union, opposing the union's legal registration, and other anti-union measures.