Alexis Martinez Palacios is a full-time worker in the packing facility of Agrosiete, a banana plantation located in Urabá, Colombia.
Alexis, 36, has worked for Agrosiete since 2007. He lives with his partner, Deyanira, and their 13-year-old daughter, Wendy, and three-year-old son, Snayder. Alexis studied agronomy – the science of growing plants for food and other uses – for two terms at university in 2008 and has taken a number of external courses ranging from firefighting to labour law and import/export procedures.
Alexis is currently the elected president of the Agrosiete Joint Body, which manages projects funded by the Fairtrade Premium. He represents workers at various Fairtrade workshops in Colombia every year and has also participated in international Fairtrade events held in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic where workers’ representative met to discuss topics such as the management of premium projects and the scope and implementation of employment contracts.
Background to Agrosiete
In the 1980s the Urabá region was badly affected by the violence and poverty which resulted from the armed conflict between paramilitary and guerrilla groups as well as drug gangs.
The political situation permeated the banana industry where trade unionists fighting for workers’ rights were targeted by right-wing paramilitaries for their alleged communist sympathies. In the last decade significant changes have taken place, whereby employers and trade unions have moved to peaceful dialogue as their means of engagement and Sintrainagro, a strong independent trade union, now represents around 80% of banana workers in the country.
Agrosiete was originally called Trujillo, Gomez & Company after the two people who founded the company in 1979. When the company was purchased in 2011 by Agrosiete Group it retained Carlos Trujillo, son of the founders, as manager. It is a subsidiary of Uniban, to which it sells its bananas, one of Colombia’s largest banana producer-exporters.
Bananas are now cultivated on three farm production units covering 94 hectares. Each unit has its own pack-house and the company employs a total of 80 staff and workers.
Agrosiete produces approximately 220,000 boxes of bananas a year, depending on growing conditions. Each standard box is 18.14kg so this equates to 4,000 tonnes.
Agrosiete was Fairtrade certified in 2007 and Fairtrade sales now account for 85% of the total. These sales include a payment based on the Fairtrade Minimum Price, which covers costs of production, and an additional Fairtrade Premium of $1.00 per box for workers to invest in community development.
The Premium is paid into the bank account of the Joint Body (JB) which is made up of eight elected workers and a management representative whose skills and experience are used to guide the JB in project management, finance, accounts, and administration. Alexis is the current president of the JB.
Fairtrade Premium projects approved and managed by the JB include:
- Two important projects are being funded to improve workers’ housing. In a joint project with Agrosiete, the premium is contributing to a company scheme to buy land and build houses which workers can apply to purchase. Five new, high quality houses were built and allocated to workers in 2013.
- The second scheme provides loans for workers to buy land and build a house or to extend, improve or repair existing property.
- Scholarships and travel allowances for children; student loans.
- Provision of schoolbooks, school equipment and new clothing for children of low-income families.
- Further education scholarships for adults.
- IT and English classes for adults
- Financial support for educational institutions.
- Contributions to medical expenses including: glasses, dental work, prosthetics, medicines for long-term conditions, funeral expenses and cases of domestic hardship.
- Emergency brigades: teams of volunteers, including Alexis, who help out communities in emergencies such as floods.
- JB capacity building
- Various training programmes for JB members in areas such as Fairtrade Standards and accounts.