Friday, October 19, 2018
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Development model or slavery?
Lily Céspedes
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Alternative court finds agroindustrial company guilty of violating human rights and labor agreements.

The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) that met in Lima from May 13-16 for the People’s Summit “Linking Alternatives 3” morally and ethically condemned the agroindustrial company Camposol, a part of Norwegian transnational Dyer Coriat Holding for union busting.

The company works in the Chao Valley in the northern La Libertad department, and the PPT said it violated human rights as well international labor and women’s rights agreements that Peru has signed, by firing hundreds of workers for forming a union.

François Houtart, a priest and PPT president, announced that Camposol would be reported, along with 20 other multinationals, to the United Nations Human Rights Council so that a Special Rapporteur will be put in charge of presenting a report to the United Nations General Assembly on how transnationals operating in Latin America have free reign to break the countries’ laws thanks to government complicity.

In addition to Camposol, the PPT saw other cases of transnationals operating in Peru, such as the British mining company Monterrico Metals Plc and German chemical giant Bayer AG.

The Camposol case file reached the PPT through the women workers’ rights promoting Aurora Vivar Association that prepared the formal accusation along with Peru’s largest labor union, the General Confederation of Workers in Peru, known as CGTP, for its initials in Spanish.

An excluding model
A decade ago, Camposol bought and rented extensive plots of land in the Chao Valley — a highly productive farming zone — in order to grow asparagus, paprika, artichokes and piquillo peppers, taking advantage of tariff benefits with the United States as well as tax and labor benefits conceded by a Peruvian law aimed at increasing farming production.

This law establishes minimum wages — which consider company unemployment fund contributions and bonuses as already included — for farm workers, it cuts vacations by half and states that only a third of the compensation must be paid in the case of arbitrary dismissal.

Camposol is considered a model company around the world for development. It uses cutting edge technology and has a significant presence in the most demanding markets for vegetables and frozen and processed fruits.

According to the most recent report from Peru’s Foreign Trade Association, Camposol headed Peru’s agricultural exports in the first two months of this year with US$19.8 million worth, some 5.2 percent more than what it exported during the same period in 2007.

The company’s crops cover 15,500 hectares (38,300 acres) of their own lands and 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of rented lands that are used for all stages of production, including planting, raising, distribution and trade. It has over 10,000 workers — 70 percent of which are women — and generates a yearly revenue of over $40 million.

However, the company’s workers live in fear of continued threats of firings and abusively long work days. Camposol uses farmers from the zone as its suppliers, fixes market prices and incorporates women as workers for their keen motor ability in harvesting.

Violated rights
The abuse and mistreatment of workers began in 2002 when the company managed to break up the first union promoted by worker Felipe Escobedo Castillo and fired all of those who joined the union. Camposol further “punished” Chao inhabitants by refusing to offer them jobs for two years.

Escobedo suffered physical aggression, an arbitrary arrest for two days and was bullied into quitting his job at Camposol. He is 39 years old, has four children and has not been able to find work since Camposol has stigmatized him within the community as a troublemaker and unionist.

His case is currently in the Superior Court of Trujillo, La Libertad’s capital, where it has continued unresolved for five months. Escobedo has asked for his job back as well as indemnification.

In May and June of last year, strikes and protests broke out shortly after the dismissal of 80 workers. Ten of the protestors were kidnapped and pressured to stop the strike and another four were wounded by gunshots during police repression. Last December, another 385 workers were kept out of the company, 80 percent of whom were members of the Camposol Workers Union. 50 were replaced with the help of Agricultural Minister Ismael Benavides’ mediation.

Rosa Parihuachi Palacios, former defense secretary of the union, affirmed that “there is widespread exploitation; I worked as an asparagus peeler for between 16 and 17 hours daily on foot, and they only acknowledged 13 hours on my pay slip.”

“To peel asparagus, they forced us to wear short pants in the middle of winter and refused to give us new gloves when the old ones wore out,” she told.

Now Parihuachi works eight hours daily in a smaller company and earns 18 Peruvian soles a day ($6.50).

According to the CGTP’s current defense secretary, Luis Izarra, “Camposol’s actions violate the right to unionize, to not suffer discrimination at work, the right to security, it violates Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 28 of the Peruvian Constitution, the Penal Code and agreements with the International Labor Organization [ILO].”

The crop exportation success that Peru is experiencing is largely due to the trade benefits offered through the US Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which gives tax benefits to exports from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The success is also due to the availability of cheap labor, but the state’s Farming Promotion Law has incorporated other factors related to productivity and competition at the cost of workers’ rights, such as investment in products demanded worldwide, use of good soil without water-related problems and with proximity to ports and cheap but qualified labor to produce large quantities using high technology. In exchange for this, the state gives crop exporting companies’ tariff benefits such as exemptions and reductions, lower payments for health service, etc.

“This special labor schedule that was extended until 2021 is discriminatory for workers because it attacks the principle of equality before the law and discredits international agreements that Peru has signed with the ILO,” Izarra said.

Escobedo has asked the government to revise and correct the law since it is outdated and abusive. He also demanded a greater number of labor inspections in rural areas, for fired workers to be offered their jobs back and for an end to hostilities.


In Peru´s world leading asparagus production, there is widespread exploitation, says Rosa Parihuachi Palacios, former defense secretary of the Camposol Workers Union. (Photo: William Chico)
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