What you need to know about #BoycottNutriAsia

Features Philippines Aug 10, 2018 at 3:59 pm

NutriAsia-BoycottBy Ysh Cabana

Ticked-off consumers, irked by NutriAsia management’s bloody dispersal amid labour disputes, are calling for boycott of favorite Pinoy brands.

What is NutriAsia?

Owned by Filipino-Chinese businessman Joselito Campos, NutriAsia, Inc. is the largest producer and distributor of Philipippine condiments and cooking oil. After leaving the flourishing family business in drug manufacturing, Butch as he is fondly called,  acquired many smaller food companies in the 1990s and turned them into a US$330 million company under NutriAsia Inc. It soon merged with more leading household brands like Jufran and Mafran ketchup, Datu Puti, Papa Ketchup, and Mang Tomas Lechon Sauce and later on with UFC ketchup, Silver Swan soy sauce and vinegar.

In 2015, it recorded at least PhP16.8 billion ($412 million Cdn) in total assets, and sells products in Europe, Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and North America. NutriAsia products are available in some supermarkets like Costco and Walmart, as well as in some Filipino stores in Canada. So, if you can buy something delicious off the shelf, why on earth would you attempt to turn your back on it? But before that…

Nanay Leti, one of the injured supporters of NutriAsia  workers, is still recovering at a hospital. She has a fractured skull at the right side of her face and a broken nose.  (Photo courtesy of Kadamay)

Nanay Leti, one of the injured supporters of NutriAsia
workers, is still recovering at a hospital. She has a fractured skull at the right side of her face and a broken nose.
(Photo courtesy of Kadamay)

Why were the NutriAsia workers protesting?

The NutriAsia workers were protesting alleged unfair labor practices. Factory workers are paid only PHP380 (around $9.30 Cdn) per day. In 2016, the company imposed 12 to 16 hours of work straight on the workforce, overtime pay is irregular and wage theft persists.

Some workers who have been employed for more than a decade, also shared how prone to risks and accidents the working conditions are inside the factory. Out of its 1,400 workers, less than 10% are placed in permanent positions, while the rest are outsourced through other companies under labor-only contracts.

‘Endo’ and other sticking points

As per the Philippine Labor Code, a worker must be granted regular status after rendering six months of work. Regularization means a worker’s right to security of tenure is ensured, benefits are provided, social insurance is protected and union organizing is promoted.

However, many employers, like condiments giant NutriAsia, fastfood chain Jollibee and even the various government agencies, have been avoiding this by using “endo”, which is short for “end of contract”. Also known as “5-5-5”, the scheme has been for principal companies to get workers hired through manpower agencies and ending their contracts after five months to avoid regularization, then hire them again for another cycle.

In May 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order prohibiting “endo.” However, progressive groups have stated that this executive order simply reiterated what is already mandated in existing labor laws.

NutriAsia has contracts with Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Fast Services Corp, Bison Security and Investigation Agency, City Service Corp, and Manchester Engineering. The management has denied that “endo” is being practiced by B-Mirk Group, its packaging service provider in their plant in Marilao, Bulacan province, where workers have picketed.

What happened at the picket line?

In April, the workers created a union called Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng NutriAsia Inc, (NutriAsia Workers Union) but it wasn’t recognized by the management. Many of the members were threatened with suspension, and several lost their jobs.
On June 2, the picket line was installed outside the company’s Marilao plant following the dismissal of around 70 workers. As other workers had been prevented to come in and out of the factory, NutriAsia management was forced to suspend its operations.

Two weeks after, the management secured temporary restraining orders from a local court, then hundreds of policemen were stationed in the area and were reportedly given instructions by the company to forcefully disperse the picket line. More than 20 were arrested while four were reportedly injured among the protesters.

However, NutriAsia has refuted reports that it was engaging in illegal labor practices and sought court intervention.

Violence escalated when police and factory guards faced the striking workers and sympathizers holding a prayer service near the NutriAsia compound. Guards used rattan sticks and threw stones to disperse the crowd. They allegedly confiscated laptops, cellphones and other paraphernalia, along with motorcycles and bikes. Scores were injured while 19 were arrested after the dispersal – eight NutriAsia workers, six supporters, and five journalists.

In a statement, the company said that the situation was “aggravated” when protesters threw rocks at policemen.

#BoycottNutriAsia

Many social media users have been calling for a consumer boycott of the popular condiments in support of the NutriAsia workers strike. Photos of some of the protesters terribly hurt during the dispersal were shared online. Among those injured was an elderly woman, captured with a bloodied face, whose picture went viral on the Internet.

In response, NutriAsia asked the public “for fairness, objectivity and openness to listen to both sides.”

What’s next?

Back in February, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued a statement that NutriAsia and its three contractors – namely, Alternative Network Resources Unlimited Multipurpose Cooperative, Serbiz Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and B-Mirk Enterprises Corporation — were found “violating labor laws and general labor standards, and engaged in labor-only contracting activities.”

This prompted the government to issue a compliance order against the companies to regularize over 900 of their workers. As of yet, it is unclear if this order has been met. Although facing repression, workers are positive as it is the first strike in the area since 2005.

Labor undersecretary Joel Mag- lunsod said: “First of all, it’s a natural right of the workers, especially if you’ll be firing them or preventing them from speaking out. Where else will they go?”