The Fairtrade Foundation has called for urgent government intervention in the UK banana supply chain in a new report that claims that retailer ‘price wars’ have triggered job losses and left smaller producers marginalised.
The shelf price of loose bananas in the supermarkets had almost halved over the past 10 years while the cost of producing them had doubled, the Fairtrade Foundation claimed in its Britain’s Bruising Banana Wars report (PDF), published this morning.
“The poorest people are bearing the cost of our cheap bananas and they have to work harder and harder as what they earn is worth less and less in their communities”
The typical price of a single banana was 11p now, compared to 18p a decade ago. Meanwhile, living costs for banana farmers and workers in the three countries that provided 70% of the UK’s bananas – Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador – had rocketed by 85%, 350% and 240% respectively, it added.
The “unrelenting” downward pressure on banana prices had driven a shift in many banana producing countries towards job losses, the casualisation of labour and the marginalisation of smallholder producers, the Foundation warned.
“The poorest people are bearing the cost of our cheap bananas and they have to work harder and harder as what they earn is worth less and less in their communities,” said Michael Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation.
The Foundation has called for a co-ordinated government response to the issues it identified in its report. It includes a call for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Office of Fair Trading (which will become the Competition and Markets Authority in April) to launch investigations into retailer pricing on bananas.
The report also unveils the results of research carried out by the Ethical Consumer Research Association, which scored the major food retailers on their banana sourcing practices based on social, economic and environmental criteria as well as their transparency in communicating their work in the banana supply chain.
The scores, each marked out of 100%, are as follows:
- The Co-operative Food: 90
- Sainsbury ’s: 88
- Waitrose : 85
- M&S: 69
- Tesco : 65
- Asda: 49
- Morrisons : 24
- Lidl: 20
- Aldi : 19
The Foundation praised The Co-operative, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – which all source 100% Fairtrade bananas – for emerging more positively in the scoring than other supermarkets but warned: “no retailer can afford to be complacent.”
Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said: “As the first major supermarket to switch to selling only Fairtrade bananas in 2007 and as the largest retailer of Fairtrade products in the world, we ensure a fair deal for thousands of producers and their communities.
“Not all supermarkets are the same, and everyone who buys a banana from Sainsbury’s knows the grower is getting a fair price, as set by Fairtrade and a Fairtrade premium goes to their community.”
Tesco referred to its Trading Responsibly report, which contains a section on bananas. Tesco says it has committed to pay at or above the Fairtrade minimum price wherever it sources its bananas.
It claims that its direct sourcing not only means it “can source the right amount of good quality bananas but also helps us to ensure that our growers are operating to the highest ethical standards, protecting workers and the environment ”.
“We do not agree with Fairtrade Foundation’s implied assumption that any payment system other than their own can deliver a fair deal for workers”
A Morrisons spokesman said: “Bananas are one of the most popular items we sell and we are very proud of our direct buying model, founded on the principles of responsible sourcing. This model takes cost out of the supply chain, giving better returns to growers and building long-term grower relationships. We do not agree with Fairtrade Foundation’s implied assumption that any payment system other than their own can deliver a fair deal for workers.”
A spokeswoman for Waitrose said: “All Waitrose bananas are Fairtrade accredited - this has been the case since 2007 (Waitrose was the first retailer to make the switch). This means the growers we work with benefit from an additional social premium to help projects in their own communities.
“We think this is an important commitment, because we want to help our growers build secure and viable businesses for the future. And we further support this by working directly with growers to improve their quality and returns - our team of agronomists spends time supporting farms in areas such as farm management systems, communication and reduction of pesticide use.”
A spokeswoman for The Co-operative Food said: “We welcome the report, which provides valuable insight into issues within the banana supply chain that need to be addressed on an industry-wide basis. We were the first to launch Fairtrade bananas in the UK in 2000, and we are proud to be the top-ranked supermarket when it comes to fair and sustainable bananas.”
A Marks & Spencer spokesman said: “All our bagged bananas are from Fairtrade certified farms (half of total M&S supply) and all our suppliers, as a condition of doing business with us, must adhere to our strict ethical sourcing standards. These include providing good working conditions, freedom of association, treating workers with respect, limits on overtime and paying fair rates of pay.”
“There is no link between the price paid by our customers and the price paid to our growers”
A spokesman for Asda added: “There is no link between the price paid by our customers and the price paid to our growers. The current price we sell our bananas is a direct investment by Asda to lower the prices of an everyday essential to ensure we are delivering low prices day in and day out at a time when shoppers need us the most.”
A Lidl spokeswoman said: ”We are disappointed with the score received in this report. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure a sustainable living for the Fairtrade banana farmers and plantation workers in our supply chain.
”One way in which we effectively achieve this is by adhering to the minimum Fairtrade price, which means that any decreases in retail prices are absorbed by us. Therefore, a decrease in the retail price of our Fairtrade bananas would not affect the buying price paid to the banana farmer. But, with the Fairtrade price in place, we are able to continue to support the long-term sustainable development of our Fairtrade banana growers regardless of fluctuations in retail pricing.”
An Aldi spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed with the findings of the report. Our supplier base is similar to all retailers and we work closely with all of our suppliers to ensure that everyone in our supply chain is treated fairly and is guaranteed their human rights. All of our bananas are sourced from a supplier that is a member of Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) and sits on the executive board of the World Banana Forum (WBF).
“All of the bananas supplied to us are independently certified by one of the following certification bodies in accordance with our supplier’s contractual commitments to Aldi: Fairtrade Foundation; Control Union (Organic); Global Gap; Soil Association and the BRC (Grade A* for UK processing and logistics).
“Aldi’s supplier standards stipulate that our suppliers must comply with applicable national laws, industry minimum standards and the International Labour Organization and United Nations Conventions, whichever standard is more stringent. Aldi will not accept illegal, unauthorised or disciplinary deductions from wages, any form of discrimination or tolerate child or forced labour. We also stipulate minimum standards for health and safety, working hours and collective bargaining. These form part of our contractual agreement with all suppliers.
“Our supplier carries out regular audits, and works with partners such as the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, to oversee the management of labour standards in our supply chain.”