A group of over 100 current and former Ecuadorian workers are pursuing legal compensation from the company that abused and exploited them.
Furukawa Plantaciones C.A., a Japanese company that specializes in the production and exportation of abaca, a type of banana utilized for creating banknotes in 50% of the globe, has been operating in Ecuador for nearly 60 years.
Al Jazeera reports,
Workers say that despite the company raking in millions of dollars in profits, they earned less than minimum wage and were denied basic benefits and labour protections. In 2019, the Ecuadorian Ombudsman’s Office issued a report citing a pervasive system of servitude and “modern slavery” at Furukawa’s plantations. It detailed numerous violations, including child labour, inadequate pay and a lack of safety protections.
Subsequent investigations by the state culminated last month, when an Ecuadorian judge ruled that a criminal trial on charges of “human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation” against Furukawa could proceed, in what observers say is a landmark decision for labour rights in the country and beyond.
First of its kind
The case, which began a couple of years ago, is a milestone for the country as the first legal case of human trafficking for the purposes of labor exploitation.
“The significance of this case cannot be overstated, as it brings to light the persistent existence of … modern-day slavery in this country since colonial times,” Alejandro Morales, a lawyer representing the affected workers, shared with Al Jazeera.
He’s right. The Japanese firm is not the only company profiting off worker exploitation in Ecuador. The banana industry alone is full of companies abusing workers in the pursuit of profits including forced child labor, withholding wages and suppressing labor unions.
“We will not rest until justice is served”
At the forefront are survivors who are mostly Afro-Ecuadorian. The Afro descent population is more vulnerable to exploitative practices as 40% live under the poverty line and are subject to what one survivor explains is “structural racism that persists in the culture.”
One couple, who were fired by the couple for protesting their working conditions, shared that they were treated “like animals”. “We could not get clean water and bathrooms. We were enslaved and mistreated. The camps were full of families, so we had no room to sleep in. Sometimes we had to sleep in the kitchen.”
But they will not be deterred.
“Abuses by the company still pierce our hearts like daggers … [but] despite the many lives lost, we, the survivors, will continue to wage this war.”