The complaints are based on numerous documented human rights violations on Ecuadorian plantations that supply German supermarkets with bananas and pineapples. On the one hand, these violations include endangerment to health from the partial application of pesticides from planes and drones above the plantations, while workers are on the premises. Secondly, Oxfam and ASTAC revealed violations of the right to freedom of association, where workers were threatened or fired because of their union activities. Thirdly, our partner organizations have repeatedly documented the withholding of adequate wages, as workers were not paid the local minimum wage, let alone a living wage. They also documented cases of discrimination against older workers, who were fired shortly before they would have been entitled to receive pension benefits, and against women who earned less pay than their male counterparts for the same work, as well as particularly extreme exploitation of migrant workers.
In summer 2023, Oxfam, together with the Ecuadorian union of agricultural workers and farmers in the banana sector ASTAC and the Costa Rican union of plantation workers (SITRAP), informed the supermarkets Aldi, Edeka, Lidl and Rewe of the documented violations. The German Supply Chain Due Diligence Law (LkSG), which entered into force on 1 January 2023, obligates such companies to identify, prevent and eliminate human rights violations in their supply chains. The supermarkets were thus called upon to investigate the information they received about labor and human rights violations within their supplier operations, and to engage in an appropriate fashion and on equal footing with those affected and their trade union representatives, with the aim of eliminating the documented abuses.
Aldi and Lidl have addressed the allegations and in the meantime are in negotiations with their suppliers and the unions regarding suitable remedial and prevention measures. While Edeka and Rewe have responded to the complaints, they have thus far, however, failed to take sufficient and effective steps to better protect workers and prevent human rights risks in the banana industry. They were neither prepared to meet with affected union members, nor take responsibility for the payment of living wages by changing their banana price policies. Instead, they continue to hide behind audits and certifications – for example, from WWF or the Rainforest Alliance – despite numerous indications and statements from those affected that these companies were not in a position to expose the abuses and contribute to actual improvements on the ground.
With the complaints filed on 2 November with BAFA, ECCHR and its partners seek to take advantage of the legal possibilities of the LkSG, in order to ensure that importing supermarkets uphold their responsibilities for workers in their supply chains and take effective measures to stop the violation of labor and human rights.