Colombian banana crisis: a ticking time bomb?

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In spite of the country's tragic record of murders and threats to trade unionists, Colombia is the country where trade union rights in the banana industry have been most respected for the last 15 years. However the national collective bargaining agreement that covers the wages, conditions and social benefits of some 20,000 plantation and packhouse workers and their famlilies on over 300 farms has been put under undue pressure as the union Sintranagro told press this week.

Reefer Trends reported the fears of Sintrainagro president that 3,000 workers who will lose their jobs when 32 banana farms close in Urabá will end up working in coca plantations.

Sr Guillermo Rivera along with other business executives says the Government needs to take the unemployment situation in this region seriously because it’s exactly the type of scenario that would make illegal armed groups rush to recruit laborers, according to an article published in today's El Colombiano. In Urabá, where banana farming is a source of income for 100,000 people, the level of unsatisfied basic needs is 53.18%, second only to the Lower Cauca region.
          
The cost of banana industry and trade union efforts to generate decent work in the face of one of the world's most violent and complex civil wars means that Colombian bananas are not the cheapest available. When customers from the consumer markets go in search of the cheapest fruit, and that is their only criteria for choosing suppliers, they are increasingly likely to avoid Colombia.
 
Having said that, the most cut-throat and value-stripped banana market in the world - the UK -imported more bananas from Colombia than from any other origin in 2012. More than one banana in five imported into Britain currently is grown in Uraba or Magdalena, and over a third of these carry the Fairtrade label. It would appear that some major UK retailers may have learned some important lessons about supporting their ethical stance by shifting their purchases to countries where the working conditions are above average.
 
But the low prices paid back along the chain are not enough to secure a move towards decent work in the long term as Sintrainagro's President points out. Decent work and more sustainable production systems have a cost that the conventional market has to count and pay.

Source: Reefer Trends / Banana Link