It should be a given by now but is nevertheless worth repeating: good corporate social responsibility is win-win. It doesn’t just protect stakeholders but profits the company too, not least in the area of labour relations.
A valued workforce is a motivated workforce, and a healthy workforce is a more efficient workforce – in both cases, a company benefits from staff loyalty and a lower employee turnover.
Selected by the International Labour Organisation (ILO)1 as an example of “best practices with migrant workers in the employment sector in the area of labor relations, and workplace health and safety”, the Fyffes wholly-owned subsidiary Anexco is praised by the ILO as a business which is “going beyond simple compliance with national and international norms and requirements, viewing their obligations towards migrant workers as part of their productive model and thus carry out special actions as elements which generate profit over the long term”.
‘We are happy that the good agricultural practices operated in Anexco have been reflected in the ILO study,’ says San Jose-based finance director and legal representative Philip O’Shea. ‘In this regard, Anexco is similar to other companies under the Fyffes umbrella, which follow corporate sustainability policies seeking to apply best practices that improve the business performance as well as being in harmony with the environment and social values.’
Dublin-based Fyffes, founded 1888, is one of the largest tropical produce importers and distributors in Europe and the US and has a long history of social responsibility, making it the first company in the Americas to be certified Global GAP in 2001. Fyffes became an early member of the UK government-sponsored Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and a Fairtrade Licensee, which commits the company to ensuring disadvantaged farmers and workers in developing countries get a better deal – products are independently certified against internationally agreed standards defined by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO).
Perhaps best known for its bananas, Fyffes is also famous for its Gold Pineapple, a super sweet variety sourced from Costa Rica by Fyffes' Anexco – Ananas Export Company – farm. Some 40% of the workers on the farm and at the two packing plants are migrant workers, mostly from Nicaragua.
With a workforce of around 730 employees, the farm itself measures 1,247.06 hectares and produces some 5 million boxes of pineapples for export annually. This is around 70% of the pineapples Fyffes exports from Costa Rica, but the standards which govern the farm are also applied to subcontracted suppliers of the remaining 30% of pineapples.
So while a great code of ethics looks good on company websites or in annual reports what, in practice, makes Anexco such a model farm?
Step one to turning fine words into on-the-ground reality is Anexco’s commitment to making sure the employees themselves understand the company’s pledges. To achieve this, Fyffes sustainability policies and compliance requirements – from labour rights to risk prevention – form part of staff orientation sessions and are visible on posters around the farm and at the entrance to the packhouse. At staff training sessions, each employee is encouraged to learn about the background and operation of the company, the social and environmental standards on which it is audited as well as their own rights and responsibilities and the safety measures required to do their job. Workers are also made aware of procedures for processing complaints.
‘By communicating our policies and best practices to employees in training sessions and throughout the farm, we improve the working ambience as it makes our team feel valued with each having an essential role. In this way, we aim to make the company a good place to work,’ says O’Shea.
In keeping with the company’s commitment to treat migrant workers equally, both migrant and local workers can apply for one of the fifteen annual scholarships offered by Anexco allowing their children to continue in primary or secondary education. Scholarships are based on academic performance thus providing an incentive for students to stay in school.
But Anexco also offers a particular commitment to its migrant workers. While they must have work permits to work at the farm, Anexco then tracks expiry dates and helps workers with the preparation of paperwork, making appointments with Directorate General of Immigration and with cash advances to renew their permits. By ensuring that all migrant workers have appropriate documentation, Anexco thus guarantees that they have the same rights and protections as indigenous staff, including public health insurance and a workplace hazards policy.
Indeed, one of the biggest benefits of working at Anexco is the on-site medical services provided in conjunction with the Costa Rican Social Security Bureau. The value of a medical office is not just for the domestic and migrant workers, who can see the Doctor during working hours, but that it can simultaneously implement preventative health measures, including a staff vaccination programme.
The occupational health module explores workplace risks, hygiene and safety, basic concepts regarding identification, labelling and information about agrochemical application, and environmental measures.
In this way, the company is able to identify potential risks before they become a problem as well as building a culture of prevention and risk management as a key to improving attitudes towards safety, and reducing workplace accidents and illnesses.
For example, dehydration can be a concern for field workers in summer and prompted Anexco to allocate a tractor that moves throughout the farm delivering clean water chilled with ice cubes during the working day thus allowing workers to stay hydrated as well as preventing diseases from unsafe water consumption. The farm has also introduced permanent and mobile stations with dining space and bathrooms which can be deployed during workers’ breaks or bad weather.
Another very effective safety initiative concerns the application of agrochemicals using a spray boom. Field workers are alerted to the toxicity levels of the chemicals from a distance by warning flags placed on the tractor cab. Company policy also seeks to minimise mechanical hazards with widespread use of safety covers and latches including on liming machines, shredders, ditching machines, stone removers, sweepers and spraybooms.
‘Anexco, as part of Fyffes, sees the benefits in going the extra mile regarding healthcare, safety procedures, equal treatment for local and migrant workers, help with paperwork for work permits, etc.,’ says Hugo Hays, Head of Sustainability at Fyffes. ‘While it does involve additional cost and investment in the short run, the long term benefits outweigh these by far which can be seen in higher than average workforce retention rates and lower absenteeism compared to other local agricultural companies.’
To ensure continued improvement, adherence to the company’s ethical standards is monitored by a technical support group and by a compliance team of auditors who verify compliance and ascertain that the principles of the ETI Base Code are met 100%.
‘Of course, even with best practice labour relations and robust complaints procedures, one can't always guarantee that disputes never arise,’ says O’Shea. ‘However, in this regard, the important thing is that structures are in place to resolve issues swiftly and fairly.’
‘We are aware that what constitutes best practices today may change over time. So we strive to comply with the appropriate protocols and processes that fit both the local context and also the standards set internationally.
‘This contributes to the overall sustainability of the quality fruit production and supply which is beneficial for all of our stakeholders.’