Banana certification schemes

Certified bananas are commonplace, meaning that growers' and workers' rights should have improved. However, there are still issues within this field.

image: fairtrade logo banana certification

Fairtrade certification

Serious issues with workers’ rights on plantations make supporting Fairtrade – which focuses on helping smaller independent growers – all the more important.

Bananas were one of the first products to become certified under the Fairtrade label over 20 years ago.

The Fairtrade label stands for the following principles:

Paying a fair price

Producers get a fair price, covering the cost of production, cost of decent living and a reasonable profit.

Decent working conditions 

Workers on plantations, farms, in processing plants and other businesses work in decent and safe conditions and receive a living wage.

Development of local communities 

A ‘premium’ of $1 for each box of bananas is paid over and above the Fairtrade price, which farmers and workers invest in social, environmental and economic developmental projects for their businesses and communities.

They decide democratically by committee how to invest the premium. These projects include educational and health facilities, covering costs of education and vocational training, construction of roads, healthcare, microfinance, etc.

Environmental sustainability 

Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are excluded from the Fairtrade system. Additionally, production techniques are supported that preserve valuable ecosystems and protect the health of both producers and consumers.

It is best to look for companies that are fully committed to sourcing Fairtrade. Many of the multinationals will sell some Fairtrade bananas: but with much of the profit going back to the companies, buying these may fund their other serious malpractices.

logo: rainforest alliance

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance (RA) is another certification scheme favoured by many consumer-end companies. In particular, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have chosen to certify all their bananas under its green frog logo. The standard focuses on more environmentally friendly growing, but also contains some protections for workers.

Over the years, RA has received much criticism for failing to set a minimum price for producers or banning many of the pesticides known to harm the workers who apply them.

In March 2018, trade unions and BananaLink raised complaints with RA that those bearing its logo weren’t respecting the right to unionise.

They told RA that for many years it had “been certifying banana and pineapple companies where there is a continuing high level of union persecution and discrimination.” Although RA initially engaged in dialogue, the unions broke off the conversation in June 2019. They said that the certification had not kept promises to meet with unions prior to audits on certified plantations.

RA is rolling out a new certification throughout this year, for full implementation from January 2021.

In a marked change of direction, it will now take an ‘assess and address’ approach, which – while requiring farms to remediate abuses – means not even the worst abuses would lead to loss of certification. Ethical Consumer has questioned why the certifier is not combining ‘assess and address’ with some red lines, outlawing the worst malpractice.

Indeed, whilst the assess and address approach has proved successful in the case of child labour on smallholder cocoa farms, RA will also be rolling it out to deal with issues of forced labour, discrimination and (sexual) harassment – where no evidence has been provided for this as a successful approach.

Nonetheless, the new standard may have some positive impacts in the banana industry. For example, it includes more stringent rules on the application of certain dangerous agrochemicals that are widely used and are toxic for humans and freshwater and wetland ecosystems.

Most significantly, the standard will introduce a mandatory premium for tea, coffee, cocoa and bananas. This means that producers will receive an additional payment on top of the retail price, some of which has to be passed on to workers in cash or benefits in kind. It will not, however, ensure minimum pricing, which many argue is key to improvements on plantations.

logo: organic soil association

Organic

Over a hundred small farmers’ associations and a growing handful of larger-scale plantations are also certified Organic.

The issue of pests and diseases is tackled through a variety of non-chemical methods, such as botanical (derived from plants or minerals) pesticides. Although currently uncommon, another approach known as inter-cropping is likely to become increasingly important. Banana plants are grown alongside other crops such as cocoa or citrus.

These can provide additional nutrients to the soil. They can also reduce pests, as the additional plants confuse some insects and encourage other predatory ones that eat the pests.

Supermarkets and certifications

Supermarket Fairtrade Organic Fairtrade and Organic Rainforest Alliance Non-certified
Aldi     Some Some  
Asda     Some All  
Booths Some   Some    
Co-op All        
Lidl Some     Some  
Iceland       Some  
Marks and Spencer Some Some     Some
Morrisons Some   Some All  
Sainsburys All   Some    
Tesco   Some Some All  
Waitrose All   Some    

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