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  • The difference in... Colombia

The difference in... Colombia

A special cooperation between Coop supermarkets and Frutas Comerciales, our Colombian grower, has resulted in a project that aims to improve the living conditions of Colombian berry pickers and packagers. Last year we donated €0.25 for each box of physalis sold at Coop supermarkets. Together, we managed to collect €15,000. We used these proceeds during 2017 to train 209 Colombian men and women to become more aware of their rights, and what to do when they fall victim to violence.

It is very important to both us and Coop Supermarkets, our partner and client, that the employees who harvest and package our fruits are able to work in a good and safe environment–which is exactly what our producer Frutas Comerciales in Colombia offers. Since 2003, we have worked closely with Frutas Comerciales on continuous improvements, keeping in touch on a daily basis and regularly visiting the fields and warehouse in Colombia.

"Our physalis initiative was fruitful, as it were."

It may be early, but people are already hard at work in the Colombian mountains, harvesting physalis berries. Everyone is snipping away in full concentration, even when it starts raining. Employees are given a bonus for each extra kilo they harvest, which is a nice little extra. 44-year old Adela is pleased with her fixed salary. She has only worked for Frutas Comerciales for a month, after cooking in a school kitchen for ten years. She had had enough of working in a kitchen and is pleased to be outside enjoying nature now. Because her husband was blinded by a hereditary disease, she is now the breadwinner. Her two daughters, 16 and 18 years old, still live at home. Working in the fields is a great way for Adela to clear her mind.

Today the employees are putting down their scissors on time, because they have a training session to attend. Last year, an initiative with the EAT ME physalis berries yielded €0.25 per box sold at Coop supermarkets for a project that aims to improve the living conditions of Colombian physalis pickers and packagers. The project aims to make the men and women of Frutas Comerciales more aware of their rights, and what they should do when they fall victim to violence. We managed to collect €15,000 together with our consumers, grower, and all Coop supermarkets. During two training afternoons and a concluding fair, the workers are given information about health and (labour) rights. "We have a habit of always thinking about others, but it is important first of all to think about ourselves," one of the trainers says at the start of the second training session. The employees listen attentively, seated on a wooden bench in the cafeteria. Some of them are taking notes. "What should you do if your rights are not respected?" she continues. The room is completely silent. "Is everything ok, you all look so shocked," the trainer laughs. All afternoon, with the use of quizzes and drawing assignments, the employees learn about their labour rights and employment contracts, and they are informed about personal health. It is all so new for many of the employees. They find it difficult to stand up for themselves, and this training will help them to do so.

The concluding fair is about to get started. Stalls with a variety of themes are scattered around the room. The employees are divided into five groups and rotate around the stalls. Although Adela is taking in a lot of new information, she is quite confident that her rights as an employee are respected. She can get by on her salary and she feels at ease around her colleagues. "Thank you so much," they say at the end of the afternoon, when the fair is over. "This was fun, informative and interesting."

The sun is about to go down as Adela walks back to her home in the mountains with her colleagues. Inside the atmosphere is cosy and convivial, with pots and cups dangling from low beams. The wall is covered in pictures, horseshoes and Adela's husband's guitar. Adela's youngest daughter brings a pile of kindling into the kitchen to light the stove. After putting on water for the dinner preparation, Adela walks to the window. "See, this is what keeps us healthy," she says while she watches as the sun covers the mountains in a fairy tale glow. "This beautiful view, the fresh air and especially, the peace and quiet of the countryside." Joining her, her husband adds: "That, and trying to be a good person."

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