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Fairtrade is changing the way that producers are treated in the supply chain, and creating a more sustainable future for banana and pineapple workers. It increases workers living standads and helps to protect their rights. Around the world, approximately 1.65 million farmers and workers are certified fairtrade, and between 2013 and 2014, €106.2 million in fairtrade premia was paid to workers. 

Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on partnerships among producers, and between organised producers and consumers. By choosing Fairtrade products, consumers offer organisations of farmers and workers a better deal and improved terms of trade that allow them the opportunity to improve their lives through stable and adequate prices, and to plan for their future through use of a sales-related Fairtrade premium. To be certified as Fairtrade, producer organisations are required to work democratically and transparently and to comply with a number of social and environmental criteria, most of which require continual improvement.

In 1996, just 2,500 of the 10 million tonnes of bananas traded worldwide were being sold under fairer terms of trade. Thanks to concerted action by consumers and an international alliance of trade unions, farmers' associations and non-governmental organisations, fairtrade produce is now sold in over 120 countries. In 2015, UK fairtrade banana sales increased by 5%, 1 in 3 bananas are Fairtrade, and we get thorugh 5 million Fairtrade bananas a day!

By the end of 2010, Fairtrade fresh bananas, banana chips and puree were being exported from small farmers' associations or cooperatives and plantations in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica, Grenada, Ghana, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Brazil. All the organisations in the Dominican Republic and Peru, as well as some of those in Ecuador, produce certified organic bananas.

At the end of 2015, 400 companies were licensed to use the Fairtrade logo in the UK, and since the end of 2011, 1.65 million farmers in 74 countries became part of the Fairtrade family. Around 80 banana producer organisations in 11 countries worldwide were certified to Fairtrade standards, including 43 small producer organisations (representing 13,300 farmers) and 37 hired labour organisations (with a total of 4,900 workers). The majority of Fairtrade banana producer organisations are in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador.

Today, Fairtrade bananas account for an increasing percentage of the total world trade in bananas and over a third of bananas sold in the UK carry the Mark. Between 2013 and 2014, around 60% of bananas were certified Fairtrade!

The international Fairtrade Mark

Since 2002, a single international Fairtrade mark has been used by almost all the national labelling initiatives. This label guarantees that the bananas have been produced to certain standards and that the producer gets a fair price plus a premium for investing in making social and environmental improvements.

The body responsible for setting and monitoring these social and environmental standards is the Fairtrade International (FLO) and, since 2003, its certifying arm FLO CERT Ltd. FLO International brings together 20 national labelling initiatives in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. It certifies producer organisations, both small farmers and plantations, and registers traders who want to market labelled bananas. The national labelling initiatives license companies who want to sell in the consumer countries. The cost of certification and monitoring is shared between the companies licensed to use the mark in consumer markets and the producer organisations themselves. Certified producers are monitored regularly for the compliance of their working practices with the high social and environmental standards set by FLO.

The Fairtrade system incorporates the principle of 'cost internalisation' (i.e. including the cost of social rights and environmental protection in the price paid by the consumer). Under the FLO criteria, the producers are guaranteed a minimum price that is calculated to cover full production costs plus a reasonable margin to meet basic needs. A substantial premium is also paid which can be put towards social and environmental improvements.

In the case of small farmers' organisations, members decide democratically how to spend the premium in their community. In large FLO-certified plantations, the premium goes to benefit the workers who are encouraged to organise in independent trade unions. 

Social criteria also include a range of other international labour standards and health and safety requirements. Organisations must also work to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination. Additionally, producers commit themselves to minimising chemical applications, protecting water, soil and wildlife, and reducing and/or composting waste.

The diagram below illustrates how the value from the sale of Fairtrade bananas can be distributed along the supply chain (compare with the split for conventional bananas).

The challenges

Fairtrade was initially designed to secure market access for small producer organisations. However many small producers have already been squeezed financially due to low prices and the structural inequality of tropical fruit industries. Increasing numbers of plantations - and thus workers - are therefore being certified. We believe that all workers should be able to benefit from Fairtrade.

FLO has been the target of public criticism in Europe and Latin America because of the lack of trade union freedom on certified plantations in Latin America. In 2014, Fairtrade International published a new Hired Labour Standard, including a Freedom of Association Protocol and a Right to Organise Guarantee, among other new elements.

The wages achieved by Fairtrade workers are comparable to industry averages and sufficient to cover basic needs. However, they still remain below a living wage which would cover the cost of food, education, travel, housing, clothing and cultural activities. Fairtrade International is actively working on how to ensure a living wage is paid, by incorporating this into the Fairtrade minimum price paid for bananas.

Banana Link, alongside our Southern partners, are actively involved in Fairtrade efforts. We aim to ensure that the Fairtrade Mark guarantees workers on certified plantations have both the freedom to join an independent trade union and earn a living wage. We also lobby supermarkets to encourage them to source Fairtrade bananas. A significant proportion of this fruit comes from small farmers, particularly in the Windward Islands, where nearly all banana farmers are now Fairtrade certified.

Visit the Fairtrade Foundation to learn more about Fairtrade - how it works, the problems it addresses and the producers it certifies.

Download Britains's Bruising Banana Wars, a Fairtrade Foundation Report, February 2014

Download Unpeeling the banana trade by Banana Link's International Coordinator, Alistair Smith, which explores the first decade of Fairtrade bananas in the UK.


Photo: Banana workers, Ghana