In 1954, banana workers kicked off a general strike that galvanized the Honduran labor movement. Since then, workers and unions have been at the forefront of social change and struggles for social justice in Honduras. Yet, Honduras remains a highly dangerous country for union activists and politically tumultuous after a succession of coups since the 1960s, the most recent of which occurred in 2009.

Honduran trade unionists are routinely threatened, intimidated, harassed and even murdered for attempting to form unions, and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Dozens of trade unionists have been assassinated in recent years, specifically in the public sector and agricultural sector, and hundreds more injured in violent attacks. Most of the alleged perpetrators of harassment and violence were public officials, including the military police, and employers, according to the Anti-Union Violence Network. In 2018, attacks against agriculture workers spiked to 75 percent in response to the growth of STAS, a union committed to organizing and empowering temporary, seasonal and subcontracted workers, according to the network.

This trend has worsened after the 2017 presidential election produced controversial results, protests erupted throughout Honduras, and were met with violent repression. The Inter-Development Bank estimates the economic cost of violent crime totals 6.5 percent of the country’s GDP. The Solidarity Center works to strengthen anti-violence initiatives and support intensive human rights training for unionists.

Agriculture is the largest formal sector employer in Honduras, and most rural workers have limited literacy and little knowledge of their human rights and labor rights. Child labor—nearly 57.5 percent—is concentrated in the agriculture sector. Banana and coffee make up some of the largest portion of agricultural exports, yet daily wages on banana plantations are as low as $4 per day on nonunion plantations. Workers with unions are paid $7 per day. Yet palm oil workers seeking to improve their wages and working conditions through unions have been physically assaulted and fired from their jobs.

In Honduras’s manufacturing sector, half of the labor force works in one of dozens of export processing zones (EPZs). Worldwide, EPZ workers suffer from poorer health than other factory workers and face more opposition and intimidation when they try to form unions. The length of the working day in the EPZs is often determined by prohibitively high production quotas, which must be met before workers can leave.

Through the Solidarity Center’s women’s leadership development and organizing process, complemented by strategic alliances with consumers and campaigners abroad, Honduran maquila workers organized 40,000 workers and won collective bargaining contracts for 25,000 that guarantee pay raises, maternity and lactation leave, child care and housing subsidies, and a voice at work.

The Solidarity Center works with partners such as Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores Textiles Maquila y Similares de Honduras (FESITRATEMASH) and the Federación de Sindicatos de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria (FESTAGRO) in the apparel and agricultural sectors, which have developed strategies to address sexual harassment as an occupational safety issue, achieved framework agreements with global brands to combat sexual harassment, and created leadership programs for women workers to reverse the embedded exclusion of women from union leadership prevalent across the region.