Beyond the low-hanging fruit: Worker empowerment in Costa Rica – EU pineapple trade



Annelien Gansemans was born in Oostende, Belgium (13/07/1991). She holds an MA in Human Nutrition and Rural Development – Rural Economics and Management (2014) from Ghent University, where she studied the risk management strategies of subsistence coffee farmers in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, and a BA in Social Economic Sciences (2012) from the University of Antwerp. Since December 2014, she has been involved in an interdisciplinary PhD project with Deborah Martens (Centre for EU Studies). During her PhD, she went several times to Costa Rica to conduct field work in the pineapple sector. She is interested in fair trade issues, civil society action, corporate social responsibility and the creation of sustainable value chains. She gained professional experience at the Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia in the impact assessment team of the Fair Trade USA coffee plantation pilot programmes in Peru, Nicaragua and Brazil. In 2018, she joined the Cooperatives Unit of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva for a six-month internship.


global4.jpgThe globalisation of agri-food systems has stimulated exports of non-traditional crops such as pineapple. In the past two decades, the pineapple boom in Costa Rica - Europe’s largest provider of fresh pineapple - has created new employment opportunities for low-skilled agricultural workers. However, concerns have been raised about the employment quality, in particular worker’s ability to freely join unions and collectively use their voice to negotiate improvements.

The doctoral dissertation examines how different governance mechanisms, involving public and private actors, shape empowerment processes at multiple levels (i.e., worker, union, company, national and transnational level). An interdisciplinary research design, combining agricultural economics with political science perspectives, was developed to shed light on worker’s ability to act in the anti-union context of Costa Rica. Based on extensive field research, we conclude that worker empowerment is limited due to a weak enabling environment and existing power imbalances in the supply chain that prevent workers from speaking up. To overcome these locally embedded challenges, this research found that linkages with international actors, such as a European buyer and trade unions, can provide windows of opportunities to empower workers.

This research project is supported by the Special Research Fund (BOF) of Ghent University.

Supervisors: Prof. Marijke D’Haese ; Prof. Jan Orbie (Centre for EU Studies)