Current tropical fruit trading systems have checks and balances which should protect workers and the environment. In practice these mechanisms often do not work effectively. They include:
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is part of the UN, promotes core international labour standards – on freedom of association and collective bargaining, child labour, forced labour and discrimination – that are enshrined by law in every banana and pineapple producing country.There are however many challenges - in terms of political will, institutional capacity and resources - to implementing these standards at plantation level. National governments in producer countries value the foreign investment provided by multinational fruit companies and in many countries these companies also have an influential role in political decisions. Workers and trade unions struggle to push cases of labour rights violations through the national justice systems and labour inspectorates often lack the capacity to support this process.
Visit the trade union section of our Make Fruit Fair site to read more about why we believe strong independent trade unions are vital to ensuring dignity at work, respect for labour rights and a fair living wage for all workers employed on plantations. The international solidarity section of this site explains how international solidarity through our Union to Union programme can help to build the capacity of trade unions in exporting countries.
We lobby, and engage in dialogue with, the companies involved in trading tropical fruits to encourage them to live up to their own Corporate Social Responsibility claims. Most companies engaged in the tropical fruit trade now widely acknowledge the need for "corporate social responsibility" and have put in place their own codes of conduct or adopted voluntary standards. More recently, progressive companies have started to show a genuine will to engage in the creation of a sustainable banana economy by becoming active participants of the World Banana Forum. Such moves could inspire similar progress in other sectors of the world economy. Any company wishing to engage in genuine debate and make practical improvements should and will be encouraged.
Citizens and consumers can and do play an important part in the process of reversing the current race to the bottom: by choosing to buy fair trade and/or organic produce; by asking the people who supply them questions about the conditions in which the fruit they buy (or don't buy) are produced; by asking policymakers to ensure more transparency on pricing along the chain and to legislate appropriately. Above all, citizens across the banana-consuming world can show their practical solidarity with those at the beginning of the chain who suffer the consequences of being relatively powerless to do so.
The proliferation of initiatives adopted by the private sector - whether they be companies involved in the production, trade or retailing of bananas, or civil society organisations - that set standards for the conditions in which banana plantation workers operate, have come to play an important role in the debate about the industry's future. While voluntary standards initiatives can - and ethical choices made by consumers certainly do - make an important difference, there are legitimate questions about the verification of some of the voluntary standards. In spite of the fact that the number of consumers who choose to buy ethical products is increasing, such consumers are still in a minority, especially in North America, Eastern Europe and Japan. Many farmers' organisations, trade unions and other civil society organisations believe that what is needed is not more voluntary initiatives or more consumer choice, but rather sound regulation.
Photo: Banana workers on plantation, SITAG, Peru 2012