Last updated: January 2015
Supermarkets must give banana producers a fair deal
Kevin McCullough, Head of Campaigns at the Fairtrade Foundation, explains why shoppers need to intervene
Earlier this year, the Fairtrade Foundation launched its ‘Make Bananas Fair’ campaign to put the issues facing banana farmers and workers on the agendas of the Government and retailers. Despite being the nation’s favourite fruit – in the UK we eat 5 billion bananas every year – the farmers and workers who grow them struggle to earn a decent living.
In countries like Ecuador and Colombia, many banana producers earn less than £5 a day, with some earning as a little as a third of that. Despite working long hours, they are often unable to meet the cost of their families’ basic needs.
The cost of price wars
The supermarket price wars make this situation worse. The price of loose bananas has almost halved over the past 10 years, to an average of just 68p per kilo, while the cost of producing them has doubled. Ultimately it is banana farmers and workers that pay the price for our cheap fruit, with many trapped in a cycle of poverty.
But more than eight in ten shoppers that we surveyed for our campaign said that they would pay more for their bananas if the farmers and workers who produced them benefited. 
Photo credit: Flickr.
As a result of the campaign, more than 70,000 members of the public signed a petition that called on the Government to step in on unfair banana pricing.
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, acknowledged that retailers need to treat their suppliers in a fair, sustainable manner. But he said he wouldn’t take any action on banana pricing because he believes that as long as consumers get cheap bananas, the market works. We disagree, and that’s why we’re continuing to campaign on behalf of banana producers.
Fighting for Fairtrade
We’re supporting consumers and campaigners across the UK to write to their local Asda and Tesco, asking them to stock more Fairtrade bananas, the best independent assurance that banana farmers and workers are being protected from the impact of the price wars.
Supermarkets which source Fairtrade bananas can assure shoppers that whatever price they pay at the till, banana producers have earned the Fairtrade Minimum Price (or market price, if that is higher), which aims to cover the cost of sustainable production and acts as a vital safety net when market prices fall.
They also earn a Fairtrade Premium of $1 per box, which can be invested as the farmers choose, in their business or in social projects that benefit their community, such as education, housing and healthcare.
The Co-operative, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose already source 100% of their bananas on Fairtrade terms. But Asda and Tesco, who together sell almost half the UK’s bananas, source less than 10% of their bananas as Fairtrade. While both retailers say they pay fair prices, research shows that shoppers want an independent assurance. A recent survey by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that almost two thirds of UK shoppers don’t think it is good enough for retail companies to say that they are ethical, they need to prove it. 
And a separate poll found that when it comes to farmers and workers getting a fair deal, shoppers trust independent third-party certification more than retailers’ own claims, with Fairtrade being the label they trust most. 
A message from Foncho
Banana producers also welcome the independent assurance that comes from selling their produce on Fairtrade terms.
Albeiro Alfonso Cantillo, also known as ‘Foncho’, is a banana farmer from Colombia. In his words: “Fairtrade provides me, my family, my business and my community with protection from falling prices. Whatever the market is like, I have the peace of mind and reassurance of a guaranteed minimum price for my Fairtrade bananas, and extra money for my cooperative to invest in our farms and the community. We feel protected from poverty and myself, and my fellow co-operative members are empowered to make the best decisions for our farms and our futures.”
Sending a message to your local Asda and Tesco is as simple as visiting our site and entering your details. But by acting now, while supermarkets are negotiating their contracts for the year ahead, there’s an opportunity to make a difference for thousands of banana farmers like Foncho