Most bananas are grown for export on large plantations in Latin America and increasingly Africa. The monoculture production methods used can destroy entire ecosystems. The banana industry consumes more agrochemicals than any other in the world, excepting cotton. Some of these chemicals are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. Agrochemical use pollutes water supplies and can have devastating impacts on worker health. Small scale production in these regions and the Caribbean is more sustainable but low prices have forced many farmers out of the international market.
Just a handful of multinational fruit companies control 75% of the international banana trade - Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Fyffes and Noboa - but supermarkets are now the most powerful actors along the banana supply chain and make substantial profits by paying unsustainably low prices to the fruit companies that market bananas and / or own plantations.
The 'Race to the Bottom'
A 'race to the bottom' in the banana industry has been fuelled by the low prices paid by supermarkets and the cost cutting actions taken by fruit companies as they relocate in search of cheaper labour and weaker legislation in exporting regions. Employers have increasingly sub-contracted labour in a bid to reduce their responsibility for working conditions, the respect of core labour standards or payment of a living wage. Plantation labour is increasingly casual with many workers on temporary contracts or hired on a daily basis. In several countries membership of independent trade unions has fallen as a direct result.
Plantation conditions are harsh with workers toiling 10 -12 hours in unbearable heat up to 6 days a week. Many workers fail to earn a 'living wage' to cover their basic needs such as housing, food, clothing and education.
Photo: Sitag Peru Dole Strike, 2011