Before dawn, Gómez waits for the company bus near her home. Even when on strike, she shows up to work, fearing she will be replaced if absent. Her daily earnings depend on the fruit she and her coworkers collect, but this number rarely exceeds 350 lempiras, or 14 dollars.
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A portrait of Norma Gómez, 52, inside a Chiquita International banana field in La Lima, Honduras. Last February, workers of Chiquita went on strike to demand a medical clinic near their workplace. To this day, their request remains unanswered. With high production rates and little attention to conditions in the field, Chiquita, one of the biggest fruit companies to operate in Honduras and the leading distributor of bananas in the United States, exploits its workers.
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Workers on strike, who also form part of labor unions, gather at the main entrance of Chiquita farms in La Lima to prevent company representatives from entering the fields. The labor movement in Honduras began in 1954 when 25,000 banana farmers advocated for higher salaries. By 1970, there were over 40 thousand unionized banana workers in the country. Today, these unions allow for negotiations to unfold between employers and farmers, as company managers refuse to negotiate directly with workers.
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A fallen banana tree in a Chiquita International farm in La Lima, Honduras. The strike that Gómez helped organize lasted over two months and lead to $10 million in production losses. Workers believe it will take at least a year for the fields to return to their natural state. In 2016, 89% of Honduran banana exports ended up in the U.S..
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Workers in an active banana farm begin their shift in Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Cortés, a small town a few miles away from La Lima. The workers of this privately-owned farm receive financial help for health care and school expenses, benefits that Chiquita employees are not granted. "The workers are the lungs of our company," the owner said. "We have to make sure they receive proper care so that they can do their work."
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Roxana López, 27, one of Gómez's youngest coworkers, stands in front of the company's bus drivers. "There used to be a motto in the company that went, 'First the workers, then the work," López said. "Now, it's the other way around." The workers were on strike for 75 days, during which they received no salary and relied on family and community members for food and basic living expenses.
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A worker handles the Chiquita stickers used on produce to be shipped overseas, mainly to the United States. The exploitation of Chiquita employees allows for cheaper prices for bananas in U.S. supermarkets, but the workers hope consumers will continue to buy. The fewer bananas foreign consumers buy, they explained, the more chances Honduran farmers have of losing their jobs.
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On Sundays, Gómez takes Oscar to her father's farm house, where he harvests sugarcane. A former employee of Chiquita himself, he understands his daughter's struggle. Working conditions, he said, have worsened since he retired. When he worked for the company, water was paid for, rent was provided, school expenses were covered, and entire families had access to health insurance. Today, workers are on their own.
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An agricultural aircraft flies over a damaged banana field at Gómez's workplace. Chronic exposure to pesticides in the fields puts workers health at risk, causing asthma, neurological effects, and hormone disruption, according to the Global Health Institute. Gómez and her coworkers also face physical and mental injuries from constant manual labor and working in hazardous conditions.