Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards?

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Banana Link, as members of the Europe-wide Make Fruit Fair! Campaign, have published a report evaluating Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification in the light of recent moves by discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl to source tropical fruit from RA certified suppliers. 
 
The report - Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards? – looks at the standards and verification systems used by RA and at the realities of daily life on RA certified banana, pineapple and tea plantations, and concludes that RA certification cannot guarantee sustainability at the same low prices which consumers have come to expect from the discount supermarkets. 
 
Whilst recognising that the growth of RA certification over the last fifteen years has been impressive, its rapid expansion has invited a growing suspicion that much of its success can be attributed to the laxity of the certification criteria and the undemanding nature of the certification process. This includes criteria that are difficult to test or are fulfilled easily because they are very much open to interpretation, while the auditing of certified farms is open to compromise, when all the parties involved have a financial or other interest in creating a good impression. 
 
Citing recent independent studies by Oxfam Germany (May 2016), a number of Latin American trade unions and by SOMO (May 2015), the report contends RA standards in respect of recognition of trade union rights and compliance with minimum wage requirements, in particular, are not met on many of the certified banana and pineapple plantations in Latin America or tea plantations in Indonesia and Kenya. 
 
These independent studies also allow for tentative comparisons to be made between RA and other certification standards, which suggest that RA certification performs less well as a stand-alone certification than it does when combined with other certification requirements.
 
In concluding that RA certification cannot guarantee sustainability at low prices, the report recommends that:
  • RA needs to challenge retailers and insist that they pay fair prices which internalise the costs of sustainable production including the costs involved in paying living wages. 
  • RA should seek to engage with unions in the banana sector by, for example, proactively reaching out to local unions and the Regional Coordination of Banana & Other Agro Industrial Unions (COLSIBA) to offer regional or national opportunities for unions to discuss their concerns so that in future these can be addressed by RA.
  • Retailers like Lidl need to acknowledge that sustainable livelihoods will be delivered only when supermarket buyers agree to pay a price which reflects real costs. Lidl needs to pay fair prices and stop squeezing its suppliers.
Make Fruit Fair! is calling on Lidl to:
  • guarantee that small-scale farmers and plantation workers producing tropical fruit earn an income which enables them to provide for their families and themselves.
  • guarantee that all workers are safe in the workplace, and protected from exposure to toxic pesticides.
  • guarantee the union rights of workers.
  • pay a fair price for bananas and pineapples to all of your suppliers.
You can add your voice to this call by signing an email to Lidl at http://makefruitfair.org/