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Bananas

  Unfair trade practices, health hazards for workers and consumers as well as environmental damage make up some of the injustices present in the world's banana trade.

 

The banana is the fourth most important staple crop in the world, and approximately 70 million tonnes of bananas are produced every year. More than 100 countries produce bananas, but around 80% are grown for local consumption and never enter the international banana trade. The other 20% are produced for export markets, with demands for maximum productivity and blemish-free fruit overshadowing all aspects of production.

 

For some 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean the banana is an extremely important source of export income, but the international banana trade is controlled by large multinational companies such as Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita searching for ever cheaper bananas to maximise profits. In addition European supermarkets have entered the stage, and many British supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda have engaged in price wars making it impossible for plantation workers to earn a living. Slashing the price of bananas has not reduced profit margins because cuts are passed back along the supply chain to the workers. In Latin America a plantation worker's wage makes up as little as 1% of a banana's retail price.

 

Consumer demand for blemish-free fruit requires extensive use of highly toxic chemicals during cultivation as well as in conjunction with shipping. The chemicals are applied without regard for worker safety or the environment. This results in devastating health impacts for the workers and tragic environmental damage. Pesticides are often applied without protective clothing by hand or from backpack sprayers carried by the workers who risk serious diseases such as cancer and sterility. The pesticides also enter the soil and nearby waterways killing plant life and fish. Many of the pesticides used on banana plantations are classified as extremely hazardous by the World Health Organisation and are not approved in the UK, and tests done by www.ethicalconsumer.org have shown pesticide residue in 25% of bananas sold in the UK.

 

However, there is hope. Increased availability of Fairtrade approved fruit gives consumers an ethically viable alternative. Many supermarkets across the UK now offer Fairtrade labelled bananas as well as organically grown bananas. Fairtrade guarantees disadvantaged producers in the developing world a better deal, and organically grown bananas are guaranteed free from harmful chemicals. Look for organic bananas with the Fairtrade mark!

 

Check out www.bananalink.org.uk for more information!

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