Going Bananas for Fairtrade Fruit

Bananas are a consumer favourite. We munch through 5 billion of them each year in the UK alone. We eat them on their own as an easily transportable snack, chopped up on porridge, blitzed into a smoothie or topped with ice-cream and chocolate sauce. What we can’t do in the UK is grow them, for that we rely on plantation workers in tropical regions of the world.

Whether grown on small family farms or much larger commercial plantations, the banana industry provides employment for thousands of people in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and West Africa. It generates vital foreign exchange earnings that governments depend on to improve health, education, infrastructure and other social services. The Windward Islands (in the Caribbean Sea) traditionally earn around a fifth of their total export earnings from bananas alone. In addition, the industry employs thousands of people in distribution networks and supermarkets worldwide.

Why buy Fairtrade?

The banana trade is a vital part of economic development for many developing countries, but as with many mass industries social problems in the supply chain are many and complex. Reports about problems in the banana industry often highlight the woefully poor situation of workers: low wages, precarious employment, restrictions on the right to organise themselves and the handling of unhealthy and environmentally hazardous chemicals without adequate protection. There are environmental influences and effects too as severe weather patterns lead to unpredictable yields and intensive monoculture production methods that impact entire ecosystems.

Just a handful of multinational fruit companies control 75% of the international banana trade - Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Fyffes and Noboa - but supermarkets are now the most powerful actors along the banana supply chain and make substantial profits by paying unsustainably low prices to the fruit companies that market bananas and / or own plantations. The price of bananas for consumers has nearly halved in the last decade, whilst farmers have seen their costs escalate.

Fairtrade works to support both banana farmers and workers employed on plantations. Bananas carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark have been produced by small farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards and ensures workers get a fair price for the fruits of their labour. You can learn about the Fairtrade banana producers here.

Where to buy Fairtrade? 

One in three bananas bought in the UK is Fairtrade. The Co-op was the first grocery store in the UK to sell Fairtrade bananas and they now only sell Fairtrade bananas, only with Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. You’ll find Fairtrade bananas in the other major supermarkets too, just look out for the Fairtrade logo (they are normally packaged in plastic unlike the loose bananas).

Emma Waight