Voluntary Standards Initiatives

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There are a range of voluntary standard initiatives in the banana industry. Below is a - not exhaustive - list:

Rainforest Alliance

Starting in 1992 with Chiquita’s banana farms in Costa Rica, the Rainforest Alliance (RA) now also certifies other tropical fruit products around the world. Bananas are, however, still the main product, with all Chiquita-owned farms and most of their suppliers’ farms now certified, as well as a Dole banana farm.

RA certification tries to satisfy nearly all public concerns about the mass exploitation of natural resources, giving the impression of a jack-of-all-trades-certifier. But RA’s initial promise that its standards “afford a realistic and effective way to move toward independence from agrochemicals” remains unachievable. Whereas RA claims to promote labour rights and ILO conventions, as apparent as its disinterest in co-operating with workers’ unions. In 2010 Banana Link's Costa Rican union partners submitted a - still unresolved - complaint to the Rainforest Alliance.

Read a 2010 briefing by Banana Link, Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification in the banana industry: workers perspectives, and a recent SOMO report about precaurious working conditions and labour rights violations on certified tea plantations.

See also a formal complaint submitted by COSIBARCR/SITAGAH to the Rainforest Alliance through Banana Link, entitled The Rainforest Alliance and certifying bodies in Costa Rica: a manoeuvre to avoid workers’ rights.

Rainforest Alliance and freedom of association on certified plantations

Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification has become almost ubiquitous in the British market.  In the UK, for example, Tesco and ASDA bananas are 100% RA certified – while hard discounters like Aldi and Lidl are committing to a majority of their bananas being RA certified.  Banana Link, as part of our Make Fruit Fair campaign, has consistently raised concerns with RA that their critical criteria on freedom to join an independent union are not being implemented on certified farms.

In 2016 Banana LInk published two reports which questioned the sustainability of Rainforest's standards, in the light of an announcement that discount retailer Lidl that it would sell Rainforest certified bananas. These reports documented evidence their critical criteria on freedom to join an independent union are not being implemented on certified farms, along with other weakness in their certification system. Since publication, Rainforest has been in dialogue with plantation workers' unions in Latin America to address concerns about Freedom of Association. In May 2017, RA introduced ‘Additional Audit Methods for Freedom of Association’ in response to concerns. 

Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards? (September 2016) 

Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

Although not members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Banana Link works closely with its NGO Caucus and other members of the ETI staff team and alliance members within the context of the World Banana Forum. The fact that most major UK supermarkets belong to the ETI has also made it a very valuable network through which to share ideas and practical ways to improve standards along tropical fruit value chains. In particular the ETI has helped take forward the concept of living wage payments - a central commitment within its Base Code - to which members voluntarily sign up.

Read an interesting contribution to the certification debate from the Co-ordinator of the ETI NGO Caucus.

Social Accountability International

Social Accountability International, founded as the Council on Economic Priorities Accreditation Agency (CEPAA) in 1997, works to address the issues raised by the diversity of codes of conduct published by individual companies, which have become problematic both for consumers who want clear information and for companies seeking to enforce these codes.

Studies by SAI's affiliate, the Council on Economic Priorities - a 30-year-old corporate social responsibility research institute - found that corporate internal codes of conduct tend to be highly inconsistent and expensive and inefficient to monitor, due to unclear definitions and a lack of trained auditors. Such codes and their monitoring systems also tend to be difficult to audit and lacked sensitivity to local laws and customs.

In response to the inconsistencies among workplace codes of conduct, CEPAA developed a standard for workplace conditions and a system for independently verifying factory compliance. The standard, Social Accountability 8000, and its verification system draw from established business strategies for ensuring quality (such as those used by the international standards organization for ISO 9000) and add several elements that international human rights experts have identified as essential to social auditing.

It remains to be seen whether difficult issues such as freedom of association can be monitored and verified to the satisfaction of workers and consumers.

Dole Food Company is represented on the board of SAI and gained its first SA8000 certification for banana operations at two packhouses owned by its Philippino subsidiary in early 2001. Dole aims to have all its banana operations certified over the next few years.

International Organisation For Standardisation (ISO) 

The International Organisation For Standardisation (ISO) is the Geneva-based inter-governmental institution responsible for developing and enforcing standards which it negotiates with governments and industry. In the late 1990s, ISO published a series of environmental management standards - ISO 14000. As yet (June 2001), there has been no attempt to incorporate labour or other social standards, which are seen as the business of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Dole, for example, has achieved ISO 14001 certification in Costa Rica. However, ISO 14001 only certifies a management process (i.e. the fact that a plantation is trying to reach some objectives). It says nothing about the objectives themselves, or the environmental impact of company operations, let alone whether they have been fulfilled or not.

Certification in the value chain for Fresh Fruit, The example of Banana Industry,  FAO 2009

Our Make Fruit Fair site provides an analysis of some certification systems emphasising that voluntary initiatives can help to raise standards in the industry but that our commitment is to ensuring the effective implementation of exisiting regulation - such as International Labour Organisation standards.