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Building the Capacity for Effective Multisector Dialogue at AgroAmérica, S.A.

Building the Capacity for Effective Multisector Dialogue at AgroAmérica, S.A.

Executive Summary

Guatemala’s banana sector is plagued by conflict between the private sector and labor, a legacy of the country’s civil war “the longest and one of the most brutal in contemporary American history. Improved communication and constructive dialogue among farm administration, field workers, and unions can help mitigate the mistrust and yield positive results. Recognizing these potential gains, AgroAmérica” one of Guatemala’s largest agribusiness companies employing more than 8,000 workers” worked with the BSR and CentraRSE project team to build a more constructive dialogue at two of its banana farms in northern Guatemala.

The project team implemented a series of workshops to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration and to strengthen participants communication skills, creating a learning and communication platform for farm administration, field workers, and union representatives. The project team also recommended that the farms implement formal communication mechanisms. Additionally, BSR and CentraRSE provided AgroAmérica with management tools to support the company’s efforts to improve communications with internal and external stakeholders.

Although it is challenging to determine the project’s direct causality on improvements at the farm, it has contributed to a series of short-term results, including:

1 the creation of new formal communication mechanisms,
2 increased training for middle managers,
3 improved dialogue and relations between workers and managers,
4 development of professional skills for workers and managers
5 improved management attitude toward relations with workers that may have helped decrease stoppage time.
Despite these short-term results, the project team and the company were unable to garner support from a majority of the farm workers, who voted (through their union) not to participate in the final workshop.

Nevertheless, if AgroAmérica continues to give a voice to its workers, the company can, not only improve workers? lives, but also achieve productivity increases, greater access to markets, and influence the practices of the country’s banana sector by showing that business benefits can be achieved through improved dialogue and worker relations.

Companies looking to replicate these efforts should expect that in complex, conflictive social settings, long-term, continuous, on-the-ground interactions are necessary to achieve positive results. Additionally, engaging with external

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Agroamerica: Improving Productivity Through Better Communication

Agroamerica: Improving Productivity Through Better Communication.

20% REDUCTION IN WORK STOPPAGES

Incidents of work stoppage at two AgroAmérica banana farms have dropped by 20 percent as a result of a program designed to build trust and dialogue among workers, the union, and management.

THE CHALLENGE

AgroAmérica, one of Guatemala’s largest commodity crop companies, employs more than 8,000 plantation workers. Two of its banana farms have faced chronic work stoppages due to the generally poor relationship between the company, its employees, and the farm’s trade union. This has contributed to the farms’ low productivity as compared to other company farms, despite significantly better growing conditions. Deep mistrust between workers and company management is widespread in Guatemala and remains potent despite the end of the long civil war 15 years ago. This mistrust frequently results in ineffective dialogue and, thus, frequent work stoppages on unionized farms.

OUR STRATEGY

We began this project, together with our local project partner, CentraRSE, by interviewing internal and external stakeholders including workers, management, union leaders, and representatives from trade confederations and government ministries to understand both the national context and the specific situation on the farms.

To tackle these challenges, we built a strategy centered on a series of workshops that brought together workers, union leaders, and farm administrators. We developed three main objectives for the workshops: First, strengthen the communication skills of participants; second, demonstrate the mutual benefits of working together; and third, build trust between the two sides by providing them with opportunities to work together in a safe environment.
We believed that the positive experience of the workshop would translate into better collaboration, and ultimately improved productivity, on the farms. The workshops also allowed us to create a safe space for participants to talk about difficult subjects that otherwise would not be discussed, such as poor supervisor communication and counterproductive worker actions. The workshops provided an opportunity for participants to put theory
into practice for example, by working together to analyze existing avenues for communication and agree on new ones.

OUR IMPACT

 In less than one year, the project has led to a 20 percent reduction in work stoppages, increased productivity, and

a mutually agreed-upon goal of increasing 2010 production by more than 15 percent. Workers and supervisors now
discuss performance against goals in small group settings, and both sides state that the quality and ease of communication have improved. For example, the company has installed secure suggestion boxes and three bulletin boards for both administrators and workers to post information such as production numbers, personal and professional development topics, and upcoming events. The workers participating in the project noted that in a
short time they have seen increased wages due to higher productivity. However, they also report pressure from some coworkers who still question why workers and union leaders are collaborating with management. To respond to this challenge, we have focused on increasing worker participation in the program and overall worker support for the project’s goals. AgroAmérica plans to extend this model to its other farms

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La Zarca y La Esperanza are certified with Business Alliance for Secure Commerce -BASC-

La Zarca y La Esperanza are certified with Business Alliance for Secure Commerce -BASC-

Guatemala, January 2010. On January the 5th, banana plantations of Agroamerica, La Zarca and La Esperanza, located in the departments of San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, respectively, were audited by personnel from Business Alliance for Secure Commerce-BASC-and the result was successful. Both plantations were certified BASC.

During the visit, the international auditors of BASC, Ligia Maria Lopez and Carlos Correa, visited the two plants and made a tour trough the different areas, reviewed procedures filed its application in daily practice questions to the staff and talked with managers from different departments such as Department of Safety and Human Resources.

To Agroamerica is very important to obtain such certifications because they are international business alliances that promote safe trade in cooperation with governments and international agencies.

The company believes necessary to promote safe international trade and that is why we worked to achieve this certification. Certification which promotes and supports the strengthening of security and safety standards in international trade and whose objectives are to encourage a culture of safety and security, establish and administering the system of control and security management in the logistics chain, working in coordination with governments and organizations, among others.

With this certification, these banana plantation of Agroamerica receive a number of competitive advantages and benefits, including:
Direct and permanent contact with agencies and national authorities and international cooperating with the program
It encourages foreign trade safely.
Increases and maintains international markets, facilitating the entry of domestic products to other countries.
Strengthen international credibility.
Encourages international cooperation to reduce the risk of legal loads used for illicit activities.
Streamlines processes and operations of foreign trade logistics chain.
Fosters a safe work environment.
Promotes standardization of procedures in the foreign trade chain.
Enhances productivity with security.

These results are due to effort and teamwork that made by the Agroamerica staff to obtain this certification, with the support of the General Manager. Several changes were made in plants to meet the requirements. Some of them were the installation of video cameras in critical areas of the packing plants (stowage, packaging, assembly of boxes, fumigation chambers, palletizing), several procedures were created Department of Homeland Security, Information Technology, Human Resources and the area operational and implemented, were purchased breathalyzers and apparatus for measuring the degree of drug addiction, among others.

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Agroamerica CEO, was invited to participate in the Global Dialogue of the United Nations Environment Programme

Agroamerica CEO, was invited to participate in the Global Dialogue of the United Nations Environment Programme

Guatemala, April 2011. On the 11th and 12th of April, Fernando Bolaños, Agroamerica CEO, was invited to participate in the global dialogue Road to Rio +20: Strengthening the role of the private sector in the transition to a green economy and efficient use of the resources. Over 200 representatives from business and industry, governments, and civil society organizations met to discuss how the engagement from the private sector is crucial for the scaling-up of a green economy.

This activity took place in Paris, France, and its objective was to dialogue with the private sector about its contribution to a low carbon, resource-efficient green economy, an important topic of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Road to Rio +20, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 2012.

The event was organized by the Environment Programme of the United Nations -UNEP- in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce and the French Postal Service, Le Groupe La Poste. The dialogue was aimed at defining the role of the private sector in the transition to a low carbon, green economy and the efficient use of resources. It began with opening statements from the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, the General Secretary of the International Chamber of Commerce, Jean-Guy Carrier, and the General Director of Le Groupe La Poste, Jean-Paul Bailly.

Some of the participants in this panel were representatives from the United Nations Global Compact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hungarian State Secretary for Green Economy and Climate Change.

Fernando Bolaños stated that it is important for Agroamerica to participate in activities such as these, since they encourage companies to devise innovative ways to increase production while minimizing the environmental impact and improving the sustainability of the supply chain: Companies must create a sense of community and develop sustainable practices to achieve long-term success.

Mr. Bolaños participated in the panel discussion of the UNEP’s report on a Green Economy from the perspective of private industry. This discussion centered on the challenges, possibilities, and course of action to take for the transition to a green economy.

The dialogue gave participants an opportunity to anticipate and plan their contributions to the Rio +20 Conference. Fernando Bolaños made a presentation on how Agroamerica uses the supply chain to make the production processes more efficient, environmentally friendly, and maintain the high quality of its finished products. The panelists were directors and managers of Unilever, Business for Social Responsibility -BSR-, PepsiCo, and the International Council on Mining and Metals.

Agroamerica’s participation in the conference was rich and rewarding. After the event, Mr. Bolaños was approached by several important groups who wanted to document Agroamerica’s processes in order to showcase them as an example of sustainability.

Governments, stakeholders and private enterprises must work together to find solutions and create green economies.

-Fernando Bolaños

To see the note published in the UNEP website, please visit:

http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=2637&ArticleID=8703&l=en

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