Why Fair Trade bananas?

Bananas are the 4th most important staple food in the world and the 5th most traded agricultural commodity (after cereals, sugar, coffee and cocoa). Almost 100 million metric tonnes of bananas are consumed every year , of which 15 million are exported. The industry generates billions of dollars, yet just five corporations—Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Fyffes and Noboa—control 85 per cent of the world banana market.

Many countries, such as Brazil and India, produce large amounts of bananas that are mostly consumed locally. There are other regions however, such as Central America and the Caribbean — often referred to as "banana republics," that depend heavily on banana exports.

While trade can be a good thing for many countries, these relationships have been bred from exploitive colonial relationships. According to Peter Chapman, author of Jungle Capitalists (Canongate Books, 2007), the multinational corporation United Fruit Company (now declined and surviving in part as Chiquita) was often accused of bribing Latin American government officials in exchange for preferential treatment. It was also accused of exploiting workers, creating an abusive monopoly, and encouraging or supporting US coups against smaller nations in order to instate dictatorships. The company is considered to have played a major role for decades in the development of these exploitive relationships.

Through these relationships, bananas have become a cheap, yet profitable product for westerners. Bananas are the single most profitable item passing through the checkouts in British supermarkets, accounting for 1 per cent of all sales. In the U.S., it is estimated that bananas represent 2 per cent of the total turnover of North American grocery retailers.

More recently, supermarkets have become a more significant part of driving wages down. They are now one of the few links in the banana chain to consistently make profits from bananas. In its belief that consumers want nothing but low prices, supermarkets show little concern for the impacts that these low prices can have on the industry and its producers.

As a result of decreased banana prices over the past decades, many small farmers and plantation workers suffer from poor working conditions. Workers must often endure workdays that can last as long as 12 to 14 hours without being paid overtime. The majority of workers also lack any type of work security or protection against sudden lay-offs. And many employers only offer short contracts of six months or less. Fruit farmers often receive only a few cents per pound for their crop, which is far below the cost of production. In Ecuador, the cost of basic necessities for a family of four is $9.60 a day, but on non-Fair Trade farms, workers may earn as little as $3 a day.

In terms of the environment, a typical banana plantation in Central America uses up to 70 kilograms of pesticides per hectare per year — over 10 times more than is used in the production of other crops in industrialized countries. These chemical sprays may have a serious impact on the health of workers and people living in the area, as well as the surrounding wildlife.

Fair Trade certification helps to establish standards that provide farmers with a fair wage and ensure crops are grown in a manner that is sustainable to the environment. Bananas that are certified Fair Trade have been produced by small farmer organizations or in plantations that meet high social and environmental standards. Farmers are guaranteed a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production and a Fairtrade Premium of $1 (U.S.) per 18.14kg-box of bananas to invest in projects in their communities.