The pineapple industry is one that has been increasingly more commercialized as demand for pineapple and its derivative products rise. In 2008, the ILRF produced a major report, “The Sour Taste of Pineapple,” on working conditions in the pineapple industry in Costa Rica and the Phillipines. Big business has increasingly exploited workers and prevented unionization in pursuit of the lowest possible production costs. First hand stories of how workers have suffered from chemicals and unforgiving labor laws abound. It is in Thailand, however, that most of the world's pineapple supply is grown and processed.
Thailand is the world's leading producer of pineapples, though the fruit is not native to Southeast Asia. As land and labor costs rose in temperate zones such as Hawaii, production shifted to tropical climates, which had lots of land, low labor costs, and little in the way of environmental protection laws. The Thai government has helped the pineapple export industry grow by creating investment incentives and liberal trade policies to attract foreign investors.
Most of the 2.8 million tones of pineapple produced annually is processed, canned, packaged and exported overseas. As of 2000, Thailand had 17% of the world pineapple production market, and over 40% of the exports of canned pineapple.
In contrast to the Philippines, where production is dominated by multinational corporations, 95% of Thailand's pineapple is grown on small, privately owned farms ranging from 1-5 hectares in size. In total, about 100,000 hectares spread over 13 provinces are devoted to growing pineapples, with concentrations in the east and west coasts of the Gulf of Thailand. These small growers then sell their harvest to a processing plant. Big business relies on this subcontracted labor to supply the pineapple to be processed, and can generally fix whatever price they want as farmers have few options to whom to sell their harvest.
In addition to this, the labor laws in Thailand leave much to be desired. With growing pressures of globalization, Thailand has prioritized foreign direct investment to stay competitive with its neighbors. Thailand succeeded in opening its economy and deregulating labor practices that led to rapid economic growth in the 1980's and 1990's.
In a race to be the cheapest, most cost effective destination for investment, workers have suffered. The rise of transnational corporations led to longer, cheaper, less secure working conditions. This was intensified after the Asian financial crisis of 1997, especially as it accompanied a rise in migrant labor that was cheap and disposable. According to a report by the Thai Labour Campaign:
“Basic rights like freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are routinely suppressed in Thailand and the region in the push for higher profits and 'investor confidence’. The administration of Thaksin Shinawatra (2001-2006) has pursued a number of strategies designed to reduce costs of production and wages in the face of intense local, regional and international competitive pressures. Strategies have included: widespread retrenchment and downsizing, reducing wages and benefits, and experimenting with flexible forms of employment, which lead to challenges for organizing new trade unions, and maintaining existing unions.”The government has not adopted International Labor Organization Conventions 87 - Freedom of Association – or 98 - protection against anti-union discrimination. Under the Thai Labour Protection Act of 1998, employers must comply with minimum wage requirements for full-time permanent and part-time employees. A part-time employee doesn't have the same rights as a regular employee, however, when it comes to rights to unionize.
Pineapple processing in Thailand is dominated by Dole Thailand, established in 1974. Today it operates canneries in Hua Hin and Chumporn, and one 3,200 acre plantation the Ratchaburi province. Dole Thailand gets is supply of pineapples from its one plantation, but mostly relies on its network of 1,200 independent growers in the surrounding area. Dole tries to ensure quality standards by requiring growers to buy certain chemicals and fertilizers. As of 2005, Dole Thailand employed a total of 5,000 permanent workers, and 3,000 seasonal workers on their plantation and at their canneries.
A subscriber to the ILRF blog will know of the ILRF objections against the Dole Foods Company as Dole has gone public, and especially against its practices in regards to the cut flower industry, as exposed by the ILRF “Fairness in Flowers” campaign.
Although lack of government enforcement of labor and environmental laws are largely to
blame for the labor rights violations that occur, multinational companies that dominate the
pineapple supply chain, like Dole, should take responsibility for poor working conditions and labor standards.
As the largest producer of pineapple products in the world, Thailand needs to institute the International Labor Organization standards that protect freedom of association and right to organize. Without legal protections that are applied with regularity to the pineapple industry, workers will only face more intimidation and exploitation in years to come as demand for pineapples continues to grow.