Asda's recent banana price cuts and a decision to pull out of a supplier conference make it "no better than a Victorian slave trader", claims an international banana trade organisation.
The attack was provoked by Asda's decision to slash the price of bananas from 67p to 50p/kg last weekend, a reduction that international trade body Banana Link claimed would worsen the dire working conditions of suppliers in Costa Rica.
"Relentless price pressures have caused conditions in Costa Rica and other plantations to decline in recent years," said Alistair Smith, international co-ordinator of Banana Link.
And it has emerged that Asda had previously enraged the banana industry by withdrawing from a conference in Costa Rica that was arranged to improve supplier working conditions. The date of the meeting, also attended by Tesco, had already been changed to suit Asda but the company announced it wouldn't attend just days before it began.
"While some may see Asda as a champion for poor consumers, the cuts need to be put in perspective," said Smith. "It would take nearly 17 weeks for a consumer who bought a kilo of bananas at Asda, rather than at Tesco, every week to save enough money to buy a £2.80 pint of beer. It has become a battle between two traditional British values, with Tesco siding with the much-lauded tradition of British 'fair play', while the US-owned Asda champions the Englishman's right to a pint of beer every six months, accompanied by a return to the 18th century tradition of slavery," added Smith.
Tesco won praise from fruit growers this week by upping the per kilo price of bananas to 77p, a full 10p higher than the rest of the big four. Asda, meanwhile, responded to criticism by arranging a meeting with Banana Link to be held next week. "We had to cancel the Costs Rica meeting because we did not have the right senior managers due to attend," said an Asda spokesman. "We were disappointed to have to do this but our growers are not missing out. The price we pay them is not affected in any way. It's a better price for our customers, not a worse deal for our growers."