Statement in response to Oxfam-DE report “Sweet fruit, bitter truth.”
30/05/2016


Statement in response to Oxfam-DE report “Sweet fruit, bitter truth.”

The Rainforest Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) take the allegations contained in the Oxfam-DE report,Sweet fruit, bitter truth, very seriously. We share the objectives of Oxfam-DE in helping people to overcome poverty through their own efforts, supported by consumers making informed decisions when they shop.

Meeting the challenges of environmental protection, workers’ rights, and improved livelihoods are at the core of the missions of the Rainforest Alliance and the SAN.

Many of the points raised by the Oxfam-DE report would be in breach of the critical criteria set out in the latest version of the SAN Standard (adopted September 2015). Therefore, if the investigatory audits commissioned by SAN find evidence to support the claims in Oxfam’s report it would lead to the decertification of the farm or farms in question immediately.

The investigative audits we have done so far have not found supporting evidence, and we cannot corroborate Oxfam’s allegations. Our investigations are ongoing and we are determined to verify if indeed the allegations made by Oxfam-DE are accurate.

We invite Oxfam-DE to join us on the ground to visit the implicated farms, where we can confirm factually their status of performance against the SAN Standard. Should we find that the farms are in breach of the SAN Standard, necessary actions will be taken to improve the situation both at farm level and at the overall SAN/ Rainforest Alliance certification scheme level. We also invite Oxfam-DE to work with us to understand why Oxfam’s findings and the SAN / Rainforest Alliance investigations are resulting in different findings.

As our investigations have yet to find evidence in support of the claims made by Oxfam-DE, we cannot accept Oxfam’s communication about our work and the work of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms. It is also important to note the observations from Oxfam are based upon their assessment of compliance against the 2010 SAN Standard, version three, and not version four that has applied to all audits carried out since 1 December 2015.

“The Rainforest Alliance is fully committed to ensuring and improving worker welfare, rights and safety globally,” explained Nigel Sizer, President of the Rainforest Alliance. “We are committed to working as closely as possible with Oxfam-DE and others and will continue to play our part in creating the conditions and delivering solutions that will allow people and the planet to prosper together.”

Andre de Freitas, the Executive Director of the SAN commented, “SAN is fully committed to ensuring that the SAN standard and certification process is rigorously implemented around the world and is based upon the highest quality auditing. We welcome the participation and support of all stakeholders, including consumers, NGOs, governments, farmers, workers, and industry, in working with us to find solutions to serious problems and realize long-term, effective change.”

Background

In late April, Oxfam-DE shared with us a short summary of the findings from its report and SAN immediately put into operation its formal complaints process, commissioning investigatory audits of the farms we received information on. The investigation audits undertaken so far on two farms did not uncover any evidence that supports the findings made by Oxfam-DE (see below).

Oxfam-DE shared only a very limited summary of its findings and did not provide us access to the full report until a couple of days prior to publication. Nor were we contacted by Oxfam-DE during their work in Costa Rica and Ecuador. This limited our ability to investigate Oxfam’s findings as we normally would in response to similar complaints or studies.

The allegations contained in the Oxfam-DE report are based upon interviews with workers. In contrast, the SAN investigations are based upon a multi-pronged approach, one used by other certification initiatives in the ISEAL Alliance (a body committed maintaining the quality of certification programs) as well as many respected ISO auditing systems. This method applies both to claims by management to support compliance and claims the farm is not in compliance with the SAN standard. Both the Rainforest Alliance and SAN believe this is a more robust approach in ensuring auditing and investigations are effective in assessing the performance of farms against the SAN standard and in ensuring continuous improvement on farms (see below).

We have discussed over the past week our findings with Oxfam-DE and stressed our desire to confirm factually the performance of the Rainforest Alliance Certified farms that have been reviewed by their research and for which they have provided details. We will undertake further investigations in the coming weeks as more information is provided. We invite Oxfam-DE to file formal complaints about farms they believe are in violation of the SAN standard and that we have not already investigated. The process for filing a formal complaint is found here: http://san.ag/web/inquiries-and-complaints/.

One of the underlying principles of the SAN standard and the work of the Rainforest Alliance is to advance continuous improvement. As an example of this, we have worked over the past few years on reviewing our SAN/ RA certification scheme and we are about to launch a new and upgraded standard and certification process in September 2016 that will require a stronger compliance level from farmers and will further strengthen how certification audits are undertaken. Many of the problems faced on farms and by workers are systemic in nature. They cannot be solved quickly and cannot be solved by certification and certification standards alone. Bigger issues around workers’ and human rights – including national legislation, local enforcement and governance, and power imbalances in the supply chain – can be addressed only through determined cooperation between local, national, and international actors from civil society, the private sector, and government.

Details of the investigations audits undertaken on the two farms notified to the Rainforest Alliance and SAN in Costa Rica and Ecuador

The approach taken by the SAN investigations consisted of three elements:

  1. A review of the previous audit reports for the farms on which we received Oxfam DE summary of findings;
  2. On-site audit including:
    1. Group and individual interviews with workers that took place without management and supervisory staff present;
    2. Interviews with farm management, document review at the farm, observations of field practices and working conditions;
    3. Document reviews typically include payroll records, pay slips, identifications and legal status, social security subscriptions, et al;
    4. Pesticide applications documentation is reviewed and workers are interviewed regarding safety practices; this is cross referenced with physical checks on the pesticide stores and field observations;
    5. Health and safety risk analysis is reviewed; and
  3. Record checks with local government, or local offices of national government (e.g. the Labour Ministry) where appropriate.

The allegations contained in the Oxfam-DE report focus on pineapple production in Costa Rica and banana production in Ecuador. Investigations have been carried out in both countries by fully qualified auditors from SAN accredited certifiers.

Costa Rica

  • In Costa Rica the audit team included an experienced auditor who is an occupational health and safety expert and labour lawyer. The investigation concluded that Oxfam-DE’s claims about worker safety, wages that are less than the minimum wage, and undocumented workers were unfounded. This was verified in the documentation at the Labour Ministry. All interviewed workers reported receiving all of their benefits and at least minimum wage, including upwards adjustment for piece rate workers if quotas cannot be made.
  • All migrant workers checked met all of the legal requirements for working in Costa Rica. Many indicated that the farm(s) helped them obtain their legal residency and/or work permits. Workers said that they signed work contracts and copies were found in the farm documentation.
  • There was no evidence of prohibited pesticide use either in application records or in storerooms. Interviews and application records indicated that safety measures are taken to avoid worker presence in the field (work programming, coloured flags on spray booms, and communication with supervisors via cell phone or radio if workers are seen in areas where applications are supposed to take place). Workers said that they received all of the necessary training and personal protective equipment and demonstrated knowledge of safety practices.
  • Workers also stated that nobody has prohibited them from joining any group or organization they want to.
  • The audit did find isolated incidences where the legal work week of 60 hours during peak periods had been exceeded. This was detected during the last annual audit as well as by the Labour Ministry inspection that took place earlier in 2016. The farms concerned are seeking solutions and the Labour Ministry will carry out a follow up verification.

Ecuador

  • The audit in Ecuador was carried out by an experienced auditor with support from a practicing lawyer. The audit team reviewed payroll documentation, including pay receipts signed by the workers, and interviewed field and packing plant workers.
  • The evidence compiled indicated that workers received at least the minimum wage, benefits required by Ecuadorian laws, and that working hours and overtime were within legally established limits. Workers have written employment contracts on file. The investigatory audit found no evidence of wage discrimination as reported by Oxfam-DE.
  • The farm has posted its policy on freedom of association in areas accessible to workers. Interviewed workers reported that they knew of their right to organize and join unions, and that they were not dissuaded from joining a union. There was no evidence that workers were dismissed for union or worker organization activities.
  • There was evidence of a legally formed and registered occupational health and safety committee, with worker participation. There are up-to-date records of medical exams for workers according to the risks that they are exposed to. A physician was employed by the farm until his departure in April; the farm is in the process of contracting another. Workers do not have to pay for medical services provided by the farm.
  • Weaknesses were found in the system used by the farm to alert workers about the aerial spraying of the plantation. This could result in work that is programmed to take place in some areas that might coincide with spraying. The farm has been informed of this issue and will work to improve the warning system.

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