Published: 04/01/2011

The US AFL-CIO and the global union federation ICEM have joined the IUF in lodging a formal complaint against French-based sugar- and starchmaker Roquette Frères for violating the Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Guidelines, which are legally binding on the 34 member states of the OECD and other countries which have signed on, oblige governments to ensure that transnational companies headquartered in or operating on their territory comply with internationally agreed human rights standards, including core Conventions of the ILO guaranteeing workers their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, among others.

Workers at Roquette America’s corn milling plant in Keokuk, Iowa, represented by the IUF-affiliated BCTGM, have been locked out of their jobs since September 28 last year for refusing to submit to contract proposals which would have effectively destroyed their wages, seniority, pensions and health benefits while opening up the workplace to “temporary” employees with no benefits or security.

Immediately after the lockout, according to the submission, “The company continued operations at the plant using a combination of supervisors, employees from the Illinois Roquette facility and workers recruited and supplied by a company based in Westchester, Ohio – “Last, Best & Final” specializing in furnishing replacement workers during industrial disputes.

“The fact that replacement workers were instantly available to operate a complex plant requiring a trained, specialized workforce immediately after the lockout was implemented indicates a premeditated plan to lock out the workers, if necessary for a prolonged period, in order to impose a collective agreement on the company’s unilateral terms and/or to permanently replace the existing workforce. Such an operation would have required sophisticated planning to have been underway no later than August, as part of management’s aggressive drive to weaken the union.”

Running a sophisticated plant with hastily trained scabs has led to environmental contamination: over December 30-31, the Keokuk plant discharged 6,000 gallons of corn syrup into the Mississippi river – and the company failed to report the spill as required by law, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The union submission to the OECD calls on the US National Contact Point for the Guidelines to facilitate a resolution to the dispute, and to involve as well the government of the home country, France, in these efforts.

You can support the Roquette workers – now in their fourth month on the picket line – by clicking here to send a message to Roquette Frères in the US and France, urging an immediate end to the lockout and an unconditional return to good faith negotiations.