Cargill violates the right to unionise

In this guest article the International Union of Food (IUF) exposes the less sweet side of Truvia sweetener-maker Cargill – a company that has repeatedly fired workers in Turkey for unionising and then refused to reinstate them.

Cargill is a giant US corporation turning over $114 billion in 2020. It employs 155,000 workers in over 70 countries. It operates in the meat and poultry industry, as well as food, beverage, primary commodity trading and processing, and financial services.

One of its products can be found on the shelves of most UK supermarkets – Truvia stevia-based sweeteners. Truvia is marketed in the UK by Silver Spoon.

Unions across the world, many of which are affiliated to the IUF (the global union federation for food, beverage and hospitality unions), have collective bargaining agreements with Cargill.

At Cargill Turkey, however, the company has made it clear that it does not want workers to unionise. In 2015, 2018 and 2020, Turkey’s highest-level courts ruled that Cargill Turkey had dismissed workers due to being active union members, and the courts have called on Cargill to reinstate the dismissed workers. Yet Cargill remains in denial and has recently misled the UN Special Rapporteur about the facts.

Situation in Turkey

The most recent firings at Cargill's starch factory in Bursa-Orhangazi, Turkey, concern 14 blue collar production workers. These workers were dismissed in 2018 while exercising their fundamental right to organise a union. In 2019 and 2020, the local District Court issued final and unappealable verdicts for all 12 of the dismissed workers who took their case to court. The Court confirmed that eight of these workers were dismissed due to their union activity. The other four, according to the Court, were unfairly dismissed, because there was no economic justification for their dismissals and Cargill had failed to offer them alternative work in the company. All 12 verdicts ordered reinstatement.

Turkey has ratified the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions on the right to organise and collectively bargain, and protecting freedom of association: 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise) and 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining).

However, some aspects of Turkish laws and practices do not conform to these conventions, and so enable companies the option, at their discretion, to pay compensation in lieu of reinstatement in cases of anti-union dismissal, even when reinstatement is ordered by the courts.

Cargill has opted to pay compensation in each case, despite how ILO Jurisprudence instead prescribes reinstatement as the remedy for anti-union dismissal within companies.

“The Court confirmed workers were dismissed solely for their union activity.”

Group of male Cargill workers Turkey
Unfairly dismissed workers continue to call for reinstatement

History of union busting

The dismissals in 2018 followed a recognisable pattern: between 2012-15, seven other workers at the same factory were also sacked after trying to organise a union. In 2015 and 2018, Turkey's Supreme Court concluded that they too were dismissed due to union activity and ordered reinstatement. 

Yet, none of the workers that Cargill unfairly dismissed have been reinstated. Eight of the workers dismissed on April 17, 2018 continue their fight for reinstatement.

The IUF and its affiliated unions with Cargill membership have taken many actions to encourage Cargill to remedy the human rights violations at Cargill Turkey in accordance with international standards and principles, including ILO Conventions and the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights (UNGPs). 

The UNGPs state, “[t]he responsibility to respect human rights…exists over and above compliance with national laws and regulations protecting human rights.”

In Cargill’s own Commitment on Human Rights, it states, “[w]e take guidance from the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” And yet, in Turkey, Cargill refuses to live up to the standards that it publicly claims to respect.

Misleading a UN investigation

In October 2020, the IUF filed a submission with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association as part of a UN Special Procedure to investigate allegations of abuses of human rights. The case brought by the IUF concerns the right of workers in Cargill Turkey to belong to and be represented by the labour union Tekgıda-İş.

In Cargill’s March 2021 reply to the UN Special Rapporteur, it claims that seven earlier dismissals in 2012, 2014 and 2015 involved employees “all of whom separated under unique circumstances and none of whom were discriminated against based upon their union status.” According to the Turkish courts’ verdicts, this is untrue.

“There is an easy way that Cargill can reverse course in Turkey and become compliant with the international standards it publicly claims to respect,” the IUF states. “Negotiate conditions that would allow workers whose rights Cargill Turkey violated and who want to return to work to get reinstated.” 

Call to action

What can you do to help?

Cargill workers fighting for their rights in Turkey are calling on consumers to support their campaign. Visit the IUF Cargill web page to learn more about the campaign. 

Here are actions you can take:

  • Post on Cargill’s social media pages telling them to reinstate the workers it unfairly dismissed in April 2018 immediately and to allow its workers at Cargill Turkey to organize in an environment free of intimidation and reprisal. Links via their website for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Show your support with a `We are the Cargill 8’ Facebook frame
  • Write to Cargill corporate management telling them to reinstate the workers it sacked in April 2018

Cargill responded to a request for comment in June 2021: “Truvia is not produced nor is it offered through Cargill or its distribution partners in Turkey, so the connection of Truvia to Turkey is deceptive to readers as to the topic of the actual content.”