Fairtrade unpeels the banana trade
Unpeeling the banana trade - A Fairtrade Foundation briefing paper

Fairtrade unpeels the banana trade

At noon the 6th of March, the Go bananas for Fairtrade campaign was launched. Thousands of UK citizens participated in the world’s biggest banana-eating event. The task was to eat a Fairtrade banana before noon the following day.

Along with the campaign, the Fairtrade Foundation published a report explaining how Fairtrade bananas in just nine years have come to account for 25 % of all bananas sold in the UK.

The report unravels the trade patterns of the banana during the past 15 years. EU agreements in response to WTO rulings have been in favour for large scale banana plantations, making it difficult for small scale plantations in the Caribbean to survive at all. Combined with steep price drops and natural disasters, this have put 20.000 out of 25.000 farmers in the Windward Islands out of business since 1992. However, Fairtrade has provided a lifeline for many of the remaining farmers by offering a fair and stable minimum price along with “premiums”, a kind of tagged money aimed for social improvements in the local community. Fairtrade also encourage environmentally sound agricultural practices, which is both better and cheaper for small scale plantations in the long run.

Without the premium price we would not be farming still. Farmers here are getting prices that do not cover their costs. We, however, have been able to cut fertilizer use by half and have started using animal manure. We have stopped using herbicides and the groundcover between plants is attracting back the wildlife.
- Deris Ariza, Asoproban, Colombia

One of the most disturbing facts in the report tells about how banana price wars in Europe strike downwards to the bottom of the supply chain. In UK supermarkets, it is common to cut prices on staples as bread, milk and bananas as a way of winning the hearts of price-conscious costumers. If these products are cheap, the store as a whole is considered cheap. Therefore, bananas are often subject to extreme price drops. According to the report, the retail price of bananas in UK shops fell by 41 % between 2002 and 2007. Unless supermarkets absorb these price cuts within their own profit margins, any drop in retail prices inevitably gets passed down the supply chain. This is forcing farmers to sell bananas below the price of production, which of course prolongs the terrible wages and working conditions in producer countries all over the world.

So what is the action plan for the future? The report outlines several urgent issues for the Fairtrade movement:

  • Keep buying Fairtrade bananas – only 100 % Fairtrade is good enough!
  • Retailers and importers should make specific, long-term commitments with small-scale producers.
  • The inclusion and respect for small farmers who respect high social and environmental standards must be ensured within the EU and WTO trade agreements.
  • Plantation workers are beneficiaries of the Fairtrade model. To further strengthen their rights, the experience and methods of independent trade unions must be integrated into the Fairtrade movement.
  • Retailers and supermarkets must recognize the vulnerable position of growers and workers and not to use bananas as weapons in their price wars unless they are bearing the costs themselves.
  • An unregulated banana market tends toward overproduction and therefore unsustainably low prices for producers. Companies and governments need to establish a permanent international banana forum exploring new types of agreements that includes social and environmental chapters.

Download the full report:
Unpeeling the banana trade (PDF)
Compiled and written by Alistair Smith for the Fairtrade Foundation, February 2009

“Go bananas for Fairtrade” campaign website:
www.fairtrade.org.uk/gobananas

6 Comments

To all banana eaters it is for you to stipulate fair trade organic that is all my shop ever sells I won’t sell just organic or just fair trade they have to be both

I do not want to poison myself with pesticides. I do not want to poison farmers, or starve them. I do not want to poison this planet I call home.

so you guy’s really believe that there something called Fair Trade… okayyy.

Well Peter, the alternative to believing seems pretty horrific to me.

I love it when the big company’s are put up against the wall! It is far to little that is done tough..I will never understand how money could be put in front of a human life. Keep up the great work!

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