Last updated: 16/4/2014
Make Bananas Fair
During this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight, in February, campaigners focused attention on bananas and how difficult things had become for farmers. Heather Webb explains.
In the last 10 years, a bitter price war between UK supermarkets has seen the consumer price of loose bananas fall by nearly half. At the same time, the cost of producing them has doubled. This is trapping many banana farmers and workers in poverty.
The Fairtrade Foundation has launched a new Make Bananas Fair campaign, aiming to transform the banana industry, and help get a fair deal for those at the sharp end of the supply chain.
Britain’s bruising banana wars
Despite nearly a third of bananas sold in the UK being certified Fairtrade, all is not well in the banana industry.
A new report called ‘Britain’s Bruising Banana Wars’ reveals how significant the problem has become. Consumers now typically pay 11p for a loose banana compared with 18p a decade ago, while a loose apple grown in the UK now costs 20p. Meanwhile living costs for banana farmers and workers in the three countries that provide 70 per cent of the UK’s bananas; Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, have rocketed by 85 per cent, 350 per cent and 240 per cent respectively.
“Small farmers and plantation workers are the collateral damage in supermarket price wars. The poorest people are bearing the cost of our cheap bananas and they have to work harder and harder as what they earn is worth less and less in their communities. As a result, a product that is worth billions of pounds in global trade relies on poverty-level income for the people who grow it,” says Fairtrade Foundation Chief Executive Michael Gidney.
The Fairtrade Foundation report argues that, as bananas are the fourth most important food crop in the world and one of the most valuable agricultural commodities in global trade, it is wrong that they do not guarantee a sustainable living for all the people involved in producing and supplying the market.
“With my hand on my heart, the price that we get for our produce is not enough for us to sustain production over here. It is too low for us to have a good quality of life, or at least a decent one. We don’t see real profit from the effort we put in, it’s frustrating,” says Albeiro Alfonso Cantillo, nicknamed Foncho, the Colombian banana farmer who is now in the UK to spearhead the campaign on behalf of banana farmers globally.
The unrelenting downward pressure on banana prices has driven a shift in many banana producing countries towards job losses, the casualisation of labour and the marginalisation of smallholder producers. It makes it much harder for farmers and workers to achieve the improvements they badly need in wages, access to services like education, healthcare and improved housing, as well as environmental sustainability in banana production.
Recommendations in the report
The report says intense price competition between supermarkets is preventing progress towards making the whole banana industry fair and outlines a series of recommendations to the various stakeholders. ‘Britain’s Bruising Banana Wars’ urges:
- Supermarkets to use their dominant position in banana supply chains responsibly, reflecting the true cost of production in their practices by paying a fair price to farmers and workers, as retailers do in other European countries. The retail price of bananas has increased in France, Italy and Germany by 10 per cent, 3.9 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively.
- Vince Cable, Secretary of State in The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), to co-ordinate across government departments to investigate retailer pricing on bananas and evaluate its impact on the long-term interests of banana producers and UK consumers. Campaigners across the UK are also signing a petition to the Business Secretary to ask for action.
- The Department for International Development (DFID) to ensure the UK’s positive impact on poverty among banana farmers and workers is strengthened by supporting initiatives that incentivise living wages and payment of the cost of sustainable production in agricultural supply chains.
Make Bananas Fair Supermarket Scorecard
As part of this campaign, Ethical Consumer was commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation to conduct research into the UK’s leading nine supermarkets’ efforts to make their banana supply chains fairer and more sustainable.
The Supermarket Scorecard assesses their performance against sustainability criteria (social, economic and environmental) as well as indicators on transparency.
The research found that while The Co-operative, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, which all source 100 per cent Fairtrade bananas, emerge more positively than other supermarkets from the scoring, no retailer can afford to be complacent.
Lead researcher Heather Webb said, “This research was undertaken to help consumers identify supermarkets who are working towards creating a fair banana trade. The majority of the supermarkets surveyed are involved in initiatives to improve conditions in which bananas are grown, however, any progress made under these initiatives is ultimately undermined by the supermarkets’ pricing practices.
“Although the Fairtrade Foundation needs to be more measured in what it says about individual companies, Ethical Consumer has no such restraints. We urge consumers to support the campaign by only buying from those companies scoring highly in this research.”
The Ultimate Fair Banana by the Fairtrade Foundation
A fair banana would be produced in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable way and consumers have a guarantee that this applies across the supply chain.
This means there would be independent verification that bananas are produced by farmers and workers who, for example:
- Are able to sell at a fair price or earn a wage that covers the cost of a decent standard of living and/or sustainable costs of production
- Have access to fairly negotiated contracts so they can predict future income
- Enjoy labour and union rights and are free from discrimination
- Have adequate health and safety guidance and equipment
- Are maintaining the environment for the future.
Fairtrade bananas go a long way to deliver against many of the criteria that make a banana fair. At present only Fairtrade certified bananas are independently certified against rigorous standards that cover many of the criteria for what makes a fair banana, including a fair price sufficient to cover the cost of living and sustainable production.
However, there are still areas that the international Fairtrade Standards for bananas cannot cover, such as supermarket pricing practices, which is why we are running this campaign. Equally, we know we need to constantly deliver greater benefits for farmers, workers and the environment, with one example being our work towards a living wage for workers on plantations. Our definition of a fair banana is one we hope to reach through our campaign and through continual improvement of Fairtrade certification standards for bananas.
Download the ‘Britain’s Bruising Banana Wars’ report.
Read more about the campaign and our work with the Fairtrade foundation >
Ethical Consumer on Google+