Bananas

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 22 banana brands.

We also look at Fairtrade, pesticides, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Fyffes and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying bananas:

  • Is it Fairtrade? Fairtrade supports small independent producers who are paid a decent price for their bananas. It also certifies some larger plantations where trade unions and collective bargaining rights are encouraged.

  • Is it Organic? The banana uses more agrochemicals per hectare than any other crop in the world. Buying Organic ensures that exposure to toxic chemicals for people is avoided and ecosystems are better protected.

Best Buys

Our Best Buy is both Fairtrade and organic:

Recommended Buys

We’d also recommend Riverford’s organic bananas and Abel & Cole’s Fairtrade and organic bananas.

If buying from a supermarket, we’d recommend buying from Co-op or Waitrose, which are amongst the highest scoring supermarkets and only sell Fairtrade bananas.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying bananas:

  • Is it funding anti-union violence? Violations of the right to unionise are common on banana plantations, sometimes including violence against union leaders. Look for companies that are committed to Fairtrade practices and work with smaller independent producers.

  • Is it polluting waterways? Agrochemicals used on banana farms often seep into water systems, damaging plant and animal life and polluting water used by local communities. Look for Organic to ensure that no synthetic chemicals are used.

     

  • Is it linked to sexual harassment and gender discrimination? Women face some of the worst conditions on banana plantations. Buy Fairtrade, which includes protections for female workers.

Companies to avoid

Fyffes has recently been expelled from the Ethical Trade Initiative for its failure to address workers’ rights and a “vehemently anti-union" culture at plantations in Honduras. Chiquita, Dole and Favorita have also been criticised for anti-union behaviour in some countries.

  • Fyffes
  • Chiquita
  • Dole
  • Favorita

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

EKO OKÉ Bananas [F, O]

Company Profile: AgroFair Europe
15.5

Riverford bananas [F] [O]

Company Profile: Riverford Organic Farmers Limited
15

OKÉ bananas [F]

Company Profile: AgroFair Europe
14.5

Riverford bananas [O]

Company Profile: Riverford Organic Farmers Limited
14

Abel & Cole bananas [F] [O]

Company Profile: Abel & Cole
13
9.5

Waitrose Duchy Originals bananas [F,O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
9.5

Dole organic bananas [O]

Company Profile: Dole Food Company Inc.
8.5

Dole bananas

Company Profile: Dole Food Company Inc.
7.5

Chiquita bananas [R]

Company Profile: Chiquita Brands International Sarl
7

Co-op Fairtrade bananas [F]

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
7

Marks & Spencers Bananas [F]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
7

Marks & Spencers bananas [O]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
7

Chiquita bananas

Company Profile: Chiquita Brands International Sarl
6.5

Aldi bananas [F][O]

Company Profile: ALDI SOUTH Group
6

M&S bananas

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
6

Booths bananas [F][O]

Company Profile: EH Booth & Co Ltd
5.5

Waitrose bananas [F]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
5.5

Ocado bananas [F, O]

Company Profile: Ocado Retail Limited
5

Aldi Bananas [RA]

Company Profile: ALDI SOUTH Group
4.5

Booths bananas [F]

Company Profile: EH Booth & Co Ltd
4.5

Del Monte bananas

Company Profile: Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc
4.5

Iceland bananas [RA]

Company Profile: Iceland Foods Ltd
4.5

Lidl bananas [F]

Company Profile: Lidl UK GmbH
4.5

Favorita Bananas

Company Profile: Rey Banana del Pacifico / Reybanpac
4

Iceland bananas

Company Profile: Iceland Foods Ltd
4

Lidl Bananas [RA]

Company Profile: Lidl UK GmbH
4

Morrisons bananas [F][O]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
4

Ocado bananas [F]

Company Profile: Ocado Retail Limited
4

Sainsbury's SO Organic bananas [F] [O]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Morrisons bananas [F]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
3

Morrisons Bananas [RA]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2.5

Sainsbury's bananas [F]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Tesco bananas [F] [O]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2.5

Tesco bananas [O] [RA]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

Fyffes Fairtrade bananas [F]

Company Profile: Fyffes plc
1

Tesco bananas [RA]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda bananas [F, O]

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0.5

Asda bananas [RA]

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

Fyffes bananas

Company Profile: Fyffes plc
0

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Our Analysis

The best of the bunch?

Bananas are the most popular fruit in the UK. We eat about one in every six bananas consumed in the EU. For years, though, the banana has been at the centre of conflicts over the rights of workers and damage to the environment.

Many of the bananas eaten in the UK come from Latin America, principally Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

While some bananas are grown by small independent producers, most come from large plantations controlled by big multinational corporations. These companies often own entire supply chains, from the farms to the distribution and shipping businesses.

Sadly, human rights abuses are common. In many countries, corporations focused on exporting the product abroad offer poor working conditions, often to vulnerable migrants. They rely on toxic chemicals that pollute the local environment and harm the health of local communities.

In response to this, bananas were one of the first products to be certified under Fairtrade, meaning that more ethical alternatives are available.

Image: bananas ethical guide supermarket

Exploitation of workers

Over recent decades, trade unions, civil society organisations and campaigners have reported serious abuses of workers’ rights in the banana industry. In many of the Latin American countries where the bananas we eat often come from, workers have struggled to claim their rights as unions remain repressed.

Facing in-work poverty

In 2018, an Oxfam report on conditions for banana workers in Ecuador – the biggest exporter of the fruit – found that most workers were living “a hand-to-mouth existence.”

Although the legal minimum wage is largely respected on banana plantations, it is often too low to cover the basic costs of living. Some two-thirds of workers in Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador said that they do not earn enough to cover basic needs, when interviewed in 2019 for Oxfam. In Ecuador, banana workers earn almost 20% less than the living wage or income. In Côte d’Ivoire, the gap for many field and packhouse workers is much larger.

Overtime is frequently not paid. The cost of work tools, clothes and ‘other’ deductions are made from salaries.

Extremely long hours and unsafe conditions are also often enforced. Almost all work is done by hand, leaving many field workers and those in packaging plants with repetitive strain injuries.

“The hours we are expected to work to earn the minimum wage go well beyond the legal limit of 48 per week, but if you complain or join the union you are likely to be sacked”, one woman working for a large Costa Rican company told Banana Link.

Unable to claim workers’ rights

Often, workers are left unable to demand better conditions because they are employed on short-term contracts and risk being laid off for speaking out. Others are employed through subcontractors, allowing companies to abdicate responsibility. In 2019, trade unions in Costa Rica condemned Chiquita for laying off 178 workers at one of its plantations and outsourcing the work to three companies instead.

The problems are exacerbated in places like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, where many are desperately poor migrants. If current workers protest, companies know that they can replace them with others in serious need of employment who will accept their conditions. In the Dominican Republic, as much as 65% of banana workers are from Haiti, who often feel unable to join unions “due to fear of discrimination, repression and deportation (if undocumented)”, according to the UN.

However, there is growing recognition that these problems need to be addressed. Many of the major companies have come together in the World Banana Forum, a coalition of companies, governments, trade unions, civil society organisations and others, which is beginning to address some of the problems.

Female workers in the banana industry face harassment, precarious employment and unequal wages.

In January, seven German supermarkets including Aldi and Lidl signed a voluntary agreement committing to the payment of living wages in their agricultural supply chains. The commitment will see them working with suppliers towards a long-term plan, including with their banana producers.

image: female banana workers harassment lower wages
Female workers in the banana industry face harassment, precarious employment and unequal wages.

Women in the banana industry

For women, the situations they face are often even worse than those of male workers. Many employers see women as a ‘high risk high cost’ option, leaving female workers in constant danger of losing their employment, and meaning that in Latin America they make up as little as 7% of the workforce.

Women usually work in the packaging department, where they can be paid less than male fieldworkers. In 2016, a Lidl supplier in Ecuador reportedly cut wages for all female workers so that they were just a third of those of the male workers.

They face harassment, sexual discrimination and some receive no maternity benefits. In many Latin American countries, female employees have to provide medical certificates proving that they are not pregnant or submit to pregnancy tests before they are offered jobs. Reports of this have also come from the same Lidl supplier as mentioned above.

Banana unions – working to improve workers’ rights and pay

Trade unions have pushed for better conditions. In many countries, where they have been successful, a unionised banana worker may earn double the minimum wage and receive other benefits. By comparison, a nonunionised banana worker in Nicaragua or Guatemala may earn as little as five dollars a day and receive no benefits at all.

In Colombia, the union’s strength means that wages and conditions for the vast majority of workers are far above those in any other agricultural workplace in the country, and the best in the global banana industry.

“If we didn’t have our union talking with all the companies here in Urabá, we’d still be living in misery,” one Colombian worker told Banana Link.

Although the industry is one of the most highly unionised agricultural sector workforces in the Americas, there are  whole areas of banana production where unionisation has been prevented by plantation owners or national laws.

The case of Ecuador

In Ecuador, an organisation has to have over 30 members from a single farm to be recognised as a union. It was only in 2019 that the government finally allowed a national banana workers’ federation to be legally registered and receive the protections and rights of a formal union.

In 2016 and 2017, Oxfam investigations found that none of the workers they spoke to on Ecuador’s banana farms had been allowed to establish unions. ‘Black lists’ with the names of any union members are said to pass between plantation owners, ensuring they will not be employed.

Mass lay-offs of unionised workers can take place without the company breaking the law, because workers are often employed on short-term contracts, meaning that the company simply chooses not to ‘renew’ their employment.

At the Lidl supplier in Ecuador, by the end of 2017, at least 10 union members had been let go.

image: banana unions latin america ethical consumer
Some banana unions in Latin America and Africa are campaigning to improve conditions for female workers. © Banana Link

Threats to union members

Anti-union actions are common, including cases of violence against trade unionists. Union members and leaders representing the workers have received threats against themselves and their families, ongoing surveillance and break-ins. Several leaders have been murdered, in Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala amongst other places since 2016.

Increasingly, companies create ‘yellow unions’, which they control, choosing their own leaders and heavily encouraging workers to join the organisation. Reybanpac, owner of the Favorita brand, was accused of deducting membership fees from the wages of 4,000 workers for an association established by the company and with only 70 members.

Their Rainforest Alliance certification was suspended for a year until they held free and fair elections to the association in each plantation. Find out more about banana certification schemes.

Union suppression

Over the past 10 years, many companies have moved their operations to areas where unions are most suppressed. In Guatemala, Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte have all moved purchasing away from the unionised North of the country to the much cheaper non-union Pacific South.

Nowadays, Del Monte buys at least five times as much from the non-union South as it produces in its own unionised farms in the North of the country.

The vast majority of these bananas will be sold on US markets. In the UK, “the pressure for ethical sourcing” has ensured that the majority are imported from other countries like Colombia where most plantations are at least covered by a collective bargaining agreement, according to Alistair Smith from BananaLink.

Nonetheless, the same companies supply both markets. Alistair Smith says,

“Chiquita and Dole continue to put a lot of pressure on their collective bargaining agreements with trade unions, trying to keep wage increases to an absolute minimum and cut other social benefits... Only Del Monte [of the big banana conglomerates] has been relatively open to negotiation recently.”

Certification Schemes

Bananas were one of the first products to become certified under the Fairtrade label over 20 years ago. Its involvement in the banana industry has been credited with helping to support many small producers. To find out more about Fairtrade and other certification schemes, have a read of our feature. Here, you will also be able to see how the supermarkets' bananas are certified.

image: banana worker latin america

Bananas and the environment

Carbon footprint

Despite being freighted from halfway across the world, bananas are a relatively lowcarbon food. They have a footprint of around 70gCO2e – a small figure in comparison to the energy and nutrients they provide.

This is because they are grown in natural sunlight, meaning no intensively heated greenhouses are used. They keep well, so are transported by boats rather than airfreight. And they require no packaging – because they provide their own.

  gCO2e/kcal
Apples 0.34
Oranges 0.48
Banana 0.61
Bread 0.83
Avocado 1.23
Berries/grapes 3.00
Milk chocolate 4.28
Dairy milk 4.71
Eggs 4.77
Tomatoes 8.00
Chicken 8.30
Beef 60.24

The banana, though, also shows that environmental destruction is far more complex than just carbon counting.

Chemical bananas

The banana uses more agrochemicals than any other crop in the world, with the possible exception of cotton. In the highest rainfall areas, where disease pressure is the greatest, most farmers will spend more on chemicals than paying their workers. These chemicals seep into local water systems, causing eutrophication (the rapid growth of algae in water, sapping oxygen needed by other animals and plants) and destroying aquatic life.

As pests and diseases become exposed to more and more chemicals, they adapt to be more resistant – meaning that ever stronger pesticides and fungicides are developed. The polluted water is often used for drinking, cooking and washing.

Campaign group BananaLink says,

“For plantation workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, ranging from depression and respiratory problems to cancer, miscarriages and birth defects.”

In Ecuador, of the 26 active pesticide ingredients used for banana production, 7 are banned in the EU and 18 are prohibited in Denmark. The director of a school for children with disabilities in Rícaurte, Ecuador told Oxfam,

“Almost all the parents of the children with disabilities at our school work on plantations or live nearby.”

In some countries, agrochemicals are applied aerially – dropped from planes over whole areas, including onto workers, their homes and their food. It is estimated that up to 85% of the chemicals sprayed by plane fail to land on crops.

Many countries, such has Ecuador, have ruled that workers should not be in the fields when spraying occurs. However, they often fail to enforce such laws. Banana workers, particularly women, often can’t afford to stay out of the fields, if it would mean losing the hours’ pay.

65% of the workers that Oxfam spoke to in 2016 said that they continued working during spraying.

Company agrochemical policies

None of the banana producers in this guide had any policies on the use of hazardous chemicals – with the exception of those selling Organic and Fairtrade. These certifications include controls on synthetic chemical use.

All other producers lost half a mark under Pollution & Toxics, Habitats & Resources and Workers’ Rights for the lack of policies:

Banacol, Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Favorita and Fyffes.

Monoculture

Monocultures – where a crop is only grown from a single variety – often lead to extensive agrochemical use. They degrade the soil, so that farmers rely on ever greater quantities of fertiliser. They are also highly vulnerable to pests, fungi and disease, and farmers will again rely on agrochemicals to keep the problem under control. A single disease or pest can wipe out the entire variety.

97% of bananas come from a single variety, the cavendish banana. In the 20th Century, the cavendish’s predecessor was decimated by the ‘Panama disease’, a fungus that destroyed plantations around the world. The cavendish was resistant. But experts warned that it would not stay this way long – as it too became a monoculture.

In recent decades, Panama disease has again been destroying plantations in Asia, Australia and Africa. Losses in the Philippines alone have been reported at US$44 million. In August 2019, the disease was found in Colombia, attacking cavendish plantations in Latin America for the first time and causing the country to declare a national emergency.

If not contained, the disease could leave thousands around the world without a vital source of sustenance and income.

GM bananas

Although not yet for sale, GM bananas resistant to the disease are being developed in response. This could bring with it a whole host of new problems and would not fundamentally address the monoculture issue – meaning that history could just repeat itself for a third time.

It is important to move away from monocultures and start producing a variety of bananas. But the transition is expensive for producers and is going to be difficult in the face of poor prices and the demand for perfect, identical fruit.

graphic: average banana value breakdown for main countrils supplying the EU in 2014

Supermarket price wars

In fact, poor prices have exacerbated many of the problems in the industry, driven by supermarkets in the Global North.

Due to their large market share, supermarkets are able to set prices for their suppliers. Often, they sell bananas as a ‘loss-leader’ at below the production cost, meaning that prices are continually squeezed. From 2000-2014, consumer prices fell by over 50% in the UK although the living costs in major production countries was on the rise.

Much of this loss is transferred to producers or workers. While supermarkets keep hold of around 40% of the value in a banana sale, workers will only ever see between 5 and 9%. Most banana workers already live in poverty, and smaller independent producers are priced out, increasing the power of conglomerates.

In 2018, 31 Ecuadorian organisations wrote to Aldi slamming its “nonsensical” cuts to banana prices for the third consecutive year. In 2020, the supermarket increased prices again – but only to the level they were at before the cut for 2019.

According to Oxfam, just 1% of the consumer end price would be enough to close the living wage gap for banana workers in Ecuador.

Be alert in the aisle

Some supermarkets sell bananas from other companies in the table. For example, Lidl and Iceland both sell Fyffes bananas. Lots of supermarkets sell bananas packaged in unnecessary plastic packaging. Choosing loose bananas helps avoid the pollution and damaging production processes associated with this packaging.

Take action: Justice for Jorge Alberto Acosta!

In November 2019, Jorge Alberto Acosta was assassinated in Honduras. Jorge was a union leader for SITRATERCO, the oldest trade union in the country, which represents Chiquita banana workers.

In early 2018, workers for Chiquita had held a 77-day strike after the company moved its medical centre – which had provided full healthcare – away from the plantation and replaced it with a private practice. Military police fired live bullets at the picket-lines, and Chiquita responded with mass lay-offs.

When the strike ended, Jorge and other leaders began receiving death threats, and were subjected to physical attacks, break-ins and surveillance. Government officials failed to respond and offer protection when they were informed of attacks.

Jorge was shot by two men in a billiard parlour, four blocks from his home in La Lima, Cortes, Honduras.

The International Labour Rights Forum says that Jorge’s murder is “one in a recent brutal wave of killings, threats, kidnappings, beatings, torture, and disappearances of labor and social movement activists in Honduras, directed at Afro-Indigenous women, LGBTQI activists, campesinos, trade unionists, independent journalists, opposition political activists, and many others.”

The Forum is calling on the international community to denounce the murder of Jorge Alberto Acosta and demand justice by writing to the Honduran President demanding justice.

Find out about more of the crimes against humanity that Chiquita and its competitors, Dole and Del Monte have committed in our feature, 'The story of bananas: Banana republics and colonial control'.

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

Tax avoidance

We rated all the companies on their likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Those that received our middle rating lost half a mark, and those that received our worst lost a whole.

Best: AgroFair, Booths, Comercializadora Internacional Banacol De Colombia SA, Co-op Group (Fair Tax Mark certified), Iceland Topco, John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer Group, Wm Morrison Supermarkets, Stiepmann Stifung/Carolus-Stifung, William Jackson Food Group

Middle: Ocado.

Worst: Asda, Dole, Favorita, Fresh Del Monte, J Sainsbury, Schwarz Beteiligungs-KG, Sucocítrico Cutrale/ Sufra Group, Sumitomo, Tesco.

Company behind the brand

Fyffes is the biggest banana supplier in Europe. Also specialising in pineapples and melons, it is involved in every stage from growing, sourcing, shipping and ripening to distributing and marketing the fruit. Fyffes has been the focus of the Make Fruit Fair campaign since serious abuses of workers’ rights were first found at its subsidiaries in Honduras and Costa Rica in 2015.

Unions and labour rights organisations have reported “the continued systematic violation of the most basic labour and trade union rights, often with the complicity of public officials; including the non-payment of minimum wages; long and extensive working hours; lack of affiliation to the social security system; and lack of respect for the right to bargain collectively and freely organise.”

Over the last year, a Fyffes plantation in Honduras has been stripped of its Fairtrade accreditation, and the company has been expelled from the Ethical Trade Initiative.

The Make Fruit Fair campaign, is demanding freedom and fairness for Fyffes workers and is asking consumers to write to the company.

Fyffes was purchased by Sumitomo Corporation in 2017. Sumitomo is involved in everything from mining and fossil fuels (including the coal industry) to pharmaceuticals and military trading.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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