Project Cultivar: Advancing Labor Rights in Agriculture

A Project Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor for Central America and the Dominican Republic

Years: 2007–2011

Goal: To build ethical market access for producers, through compliance with labor and environmental standards.

Summary: Project Cultivar enables a culture of compliance in a challenging sector for labor rights.

Consumers increasingly demand commitment to labor standards from both producers and retailers, while becoming increasingly aware of the grave challenges to workers rights in agriculture in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Thus, producers and exporters from the region encounter a market incentive added to their social responsibility to ensure human rights at work.

Agriculture accounts for 10–20% of GDP of Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominican Republic, but, facing competition from lower-cost production globally, ethical production presents a sustainability strategy for the region’s sector.

Workers in Dominican agriculture are largely denied access to social protections, in Nicaraguan agriculture severe health risks, and in Honduras stark barriers to social dialogue. Cultivar works to empower workers to exercise their rights, to increase employers commitment and tools to continually improve labor conditions, and to strengthen government’s capacity to fulfill its mandate to enforce labor laws. 

Project Team: Overseen by SAI’s regional office in Managua, Nicaragua, this locally-grounded project leverages partnerships with four local NGOs in the three countries to build an enabling environment for labor rights in agriculture through three sustainable business strategies. Project partners are building their capacity through their participation in a mutual exchange of best practices, challenges and the experiences of their particular areas of work. Learn more about Project Cultivar's local partners.


  • Increase the level of knowledge of fundamental labor among workers and employers
  • Increase the capacity of employers to implement systems of continuous improvement in occupational health and safety
  • Improve the capacity of workers to exercise their labor rights
  • Convene consultative groups and roundtables to build consensus for improvements in the agricultural sector
  • Strengthen the capacity of inspectors of the Ministries of Labor of the region
  • Implement management systems to assure sustainable compliance with national labor laws and norms
  • Identify, document and evaluate risks and instances of non-compliance with labor laws
  • Establish mechanisms to document and present workplace issues to management and, when necessary, local government channels

Project Cultivar’s Three Principle Strategies

Strategy 1: Strengthen Local Leadership

SAI’s local partners in Cultivar have strengthened their leadership as proponents of labor law compliance. Highlights include:

  • INCAP and CIAC undertook national cholera prevention planning for the Dominican banana and sugarcane sectors;
  • CDH was invited by the Honduran tripartite Socio-Economic Council (CES) to deliver a workshop on promoting social dialogue to a regional forum peer Councils, which represent the national social dialogue structures in their three respective countries;
  • CIAC was tapped by the Canadian International Development Agency to provide technical assistance to the Dominican Labor Ministry on overall and specific safety and health strategies

Strategy 2: Build Capacity of Workers, Managers and Labor Inspectors

Project Cultivar has worked with a total of 38 farms and factories in the banana, melon, and sugarcane sectors and trained a total of 2,546 workers, managers, labor inspectors, and other government officials from 20072011. SAI and local partners developed and delivered training workshops focused on national labor laws, management systems for occupational health and safety, and internal complaint resolution mechanisms.  Highlights include:

  • In Nicaragua, training for 100 percent in the farms in the banana industry 
  • In Nicaragua, Finca Coquimba’s owner attributes to Cultivar the fact that his banana farm rose to the first place nationwide in Chiquita’s supplier ratings for production quality and productivity (boxes packed per hectare)
  • In Honduras, development of a Certificate Program in Social Dialogue, Labor Relations, and Management Systems with the Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH) The inaugural class of 32 included employers, trade union leaders, government officials and academics.
  • In the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, popular education materials were developed and published on labor rights (in Spanish and Haitian Creole in the DR), for agricultural workers and employers.

Strategy 3: Facilitate Social Dialogue

Project Cultivar convened 24 multi-stakeholder meetings for workers and their trade unions, producer and buyer companies, government ministries and other key stakeholders to discuss and develop strategies to address labor compliance challenges that are beyond the capacity of an individual farm to resolve. Highlights include:

  • In Nicaragua, re-activation of the Chinandega Department Council for Occupational Health and Safety, a tripartite body mandated by law to oversee OSH in the department, by providing meeting space and convening regular meetings, which participants have committed to sustain
  • In the Dominican Republic, the roundtable meetings in the sugar sector represented groundbreaking dialogue among Haitian workers, colonos (producers), sugar companies and government officials, a historic precedent in a sector whose history is tainted with instances of slavery-like conditions
  • The consultative group in the Dominican banana sector engaged Haitian and Dominican immigration authorities and the military and agreed on a permit to facilitate workers’ movement in the Northwest region. 


Project Cultivar - Project Briefer
Project Cultivar Brochure - English
Project Cultivar Brochure - Español
Project Cultivar Final Report

Quarterly Bulletin:
Spring/Summer 2010
Primavera/Verano 2010