Bananas are one of the worlds most controversial crops, together with coffe, tea and sugar. Since the 70’s it has been reported that huge amounts of pesticides are beeing used during the banana’s period of growth – putting at risk primarily third world workers with low salaries and bad working conditions who crop and harvest the bananas. The same has been reported from sugar cane fields, cacao and coffee plantations. Bananas are also singled out as beeing one of the worlds most expensive as well as one of the most intensely CO2 producing crops, considering the fact that they are transported over huge distances to be delivered to our tables.
According to the Fairtrade Foundation in UK over 25 percent of the bananas sold in the British market are now labeled Fair Trade – that means one out of four bananas sold are Fair Trade. In March 2009 The Fairtrade Foundation launched a campaign, “Go bananas for fair trade” in which half a million people participated. Does this help the banana workers? Points of views are differing.
Around 760,000 tonnes of bananas are shipped to the UK each year, making it the country’s most popular fruit, having overtaken apples in 1998. Around 140 million bananas are eaten each week in the UK – more than 7 billion each year – which makes up a total of 15 kilos per person every year. All according to the report “Unpeeling the banana trade” published by the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK February 2009.
Up north, in Sweden, people eat up to 20 kg bananas each every year (35-44 Lbs). This makes Swedes among the biggest consumers of bananas outside the producing countries, and maybee that’s also part of why the lawsuit against a film about bananas has become a really big deal in Sweden. In fact that’s also why Dole’s law suit has begun to render them a very bad name, not only in Sweden but all over Europe.
Since reports started dropping in about bad working conditions and pesticides, threats have become common against those who have tried to expose the methods of the international fruit industry and their partners in the chemical industry. The large banana producing company Dole was recently sued, in April 2009, accused of hiring the Colombian AUC paramilitary group (considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government) to murder union leaders and use terror tactics to discourage workers from unionizing. The law suit was filed to the Superior Court of California by the International Labour Rights Forum and 73 heirs of individuals which have been murdered. According to the plaintiffs many of these heirs were themselves victims of human rights abuses, including physical and mental injuries.
The film BANANAS!* by Fredrik Gertten is just one of many reports containing information about the use of pesticides in the fruit industry. It is though, to our knowledge, the only film about the banana industry that has been sued, by Dole Food Company Inc, in a law suit that was filed in July 2009. The film BANANAS!* consists mainly of clips from the trial of the complaint filed to a court in California by plantation workers seeking restitution for medical ailments. Lawyers, plaintiffs and witnesses have all been filmed and the clips show the methods used in front of the court as well as the hearings and interrogations, among them a Dole executive who admits in front of the court that his company continued to use the pesticide Nemagon even after it was banned in 1977 by the manufacturer, Dow Chemichals. The film also claims that documentation proves that Dole agreed to take on any law suit that might be the result of the continued use of Nemagon, since Dow Chemichals did not want to be responsible for any problems that might occur in the future.
Quoting from the report “Unpeeling the banana trade” published by the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK February 2009:
- The banana is the most popular fruit in the world – shoppers spend more than £10 billion a year on the fruit globally.
- Fairtrade bananas now account for nearly 2% of the total world trade in fresh bananas
- Bananas are the world’s fourth most important crop after rice, wheat and maize in terms of ensuring food security in dozens of countries in the developing world
- Just 15% of bananas and plantains are traded on the world market, the rest are used for domestic consumption
- Production and trade in bananas is dominated by five companies – Chiquita, Dole, Del Monte, Noboa and Fyffes – which control more than 80% of global trade.
- The majority of banana plantation workers do not earn enough to provide for their families – some earn less than £1 a day.
- Bananas are the third most valuable product sold in UK supermarkets – only petrol and lottery tickets out sell them.
- The UK banana industry as a whole is worth £580 million annually.
But not all will agree that Organic bananas or even Fairtrade branding is the winning concept that will change everything. The industry has adapted quickly and started to produce the “organic” bananas that the market demands. But what does this really mean? Has conditions really changed on the plantations? For example, the Rainforest alliance, which does the organic certification for the big brands, has been accused of beeing created by the fruit industry and for demanding too little – especially after their label was used by Chiquita in a big campaign. Or as the Swedish newspaper Råd & Rön, published by the state authority for the defence of consumers interests writes in a supplement on Ethic buying (pdf):
“The Utz Kapeh and the Rain Forest Alliance labels are in Sweden put on coffee respectively coffe and bananas. Their certificates aim to better conventional farming and has rules for environmentally and socially responsable conduct. The difference in comparision with KRAV-certified products is that croppers are allowed to use very poisonous pesticides and that they won’t get the minimum prices that the Fairtrade brand will ensure them.”
When talking to the film producer Jason Glaser, he points out all these facts, including that not really any bananas are produced in a fair way today. He says:
“Our real need is a full boycott of bananas, especially Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte and Bonita and to somehow show people the depths of the duplicity at work here. Its a dark and complicated biz but really ultimately simple…strip away any and all ethics and just follow the money. We have a lot of work to do.”
OK, so maybee the only way is to stop eating bananas alltogether, like the Swedish parliament member Maria Wetterstrand. She publically declared not long ago that she’d rather choose apples, because of how the banana industry is performing internationally.
What ever your own conviction, you can read more, watch the films, reportages and trailers by clicking on the links to the right. Also, you’re welcome to provide us with more links to films about the fruit industry – bananas, sugar canes, cacao, coffee, you name it. This page will be continuously updated.
Let’s work togehter for better practices in food production!