The US-based Dole Food Company, which prides itself on its record in upholding employees' rights, has to date achieved SA 8000 certification for three of its overseas subsidiaries.
The company claims to be the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables. It operates in more than 90 countries and employs around 60,000 people.
In June 2000, Pascual Hermanos, Dole's majority-owned subsidiary in southern Spain, became the first agricultural operation in the world to obtain SA 8000 certification. It operates 100 growing, processing and packing sites, and employs around 3,000 people. Its principal products are lettuces, tomatoes and citrus fruits.
In order to achieve SA 8000 certification, Pascual Hermanos developed a system for monitoring and improving workplace conditions, and set up an information channel so that employees could be kept informed on issues affecting their welfare.
The SA 8000 certification was carried out by auditors SGS-ICS.
In parallel with its SA 8000 programme, Dole has a policy of putting in place environmental management systems. Its Pascual Hermanos subsidiary gained ISO 14001 accreditation at the end of 1999.
According to Sharon Hayes, until recently director of social responsibility and environmental affairs at Dole, the process of gaining SA 8000 accreditation involved 'a lot of hard work and commitment on the part of the company'. She adds: 'This process is ongoing and, like ISO 14001, is dependent on principles of continuous improvement.'
Hayes explains: 'One of the major issues that affects the farming sector is the number of hours worked. In the case of Pascual Hermanos this was less of an issue, because of existing Spanish labour laws.'
She adds: 'The second most important issue is improving health and safety practices.'
In the spring of 2001, two other Dole subsidiaries, both in the Philippines, gained SA 8000 certification. The first, Stanfilco, exports bananas, and the second, Dolefil, pineapples.
Unfortunately, says Hayes, the commercial benefits of adopting SA 8000 practices are not immediately obvious.
'At the moment it doesn't seem that consumers are rewarding this kind of socially responsible behaviour in the marketplace,' she says.
Notwithstanding this low level of interest in ethical issues among Dole's customers, Hayes reports that shoppers in the European Union tend to be more responsive to such initiatives than those in other parts of the developed world.
Dole has recently reaffirmed its commitment to implementing SA 8000 'over time', despite abolishing the post of environmental affairs director.
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