BY Jacqui Mackay from Banana Link The Make Fruit Fair campaign, coordinated by Peuples Solidaires (France), BanaFair (Germany), Nazemi (Czech Republic) and Banana Link (UK), has launched a petition calling on the European Union to ‘Stop supermarkets ab …
BY Jacqui Mackay from Banana Link
The Make Fruit Fair campaign, coordinated by Peuples Solidaires (France), BanaFair (Germany), Nazemi (Czech Republic) and Banana Link (UK), has launched a petition calling on the European Union to ‘Stop supermarkets abusing their buyer power’. More than 5000 people have signed – add your name today here and help us reach 10000!
Bananas and pineapples are amongst the most traded fruits in the world. Most are grown on large plantations producing for, or owned by, big fruit companies including Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole. These companies are themselves under pressure from supermarkets to supply cheap fruit. In Latin America and Africa millions of people depend on this trade. The true cost of producing these tropical fruits is often paid by these workers, their families and their environment.
Many banana workers fail to receive a living wage that covers their basic household needs exacerbating poverty in many communities. Plantation conditions are extremely demanding with workers often toiling for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in tropical conditions. Intensive monoculture production of bananas demands the second most intensive industrial use of agrochemicals which workers often apply by hand without proper protective equipment or health and safety education.
Regular aerial spraying takes place on many plantations when workers are in the field, left in some instances to simply shelter under banana trees. Exposure causes respiratory and skin diseases, sterility, cancer and in extreme cases, death. Those trying to organise and defend workers rights can be subject to harassment, sackings, blacklisting and even violence. In Guatemala ten members and ex members of the SITRABI banana workers union have been killed in the last year.
Consumers expect good quality bananas and pineapples but companies involved in these trades often fail to ensure that core labour and environmental rights are respected in producing countries. Governments do not adequately enforce minimum labour standards and environmental laws.
Supermarkets can make huge profits from the sale of bananas and pineapples. However, in doing so they put pressure on producers to supply fruit at ever lower prices driving the continued exploitation of workers and destruction of the natural environment in exporting communities.
Buying fresh fruits in supermarkets can be the closest contact we have with producer countries and the consumer choices we make can have a direct impact on how people are employed and paid and how their environments are treated.
Supermarkets are the most powerful actors along tropical fruit supply chains and their subsequent buyer power means that in some countries, bananas are amongst the most valuable products they sell.
Supermarkets can achieve substantial profits by squeezing suppliers and paying unsustainably low prices for bananas and pineapples. Supermarkets price wars in bananas, and more recently in pineapples, continue to push prices ever lower encouraging low wages, poor working conditions, labour right abuses, inadequate health and safety standards and weak environmental protection.
Five supermarket chains control between 60-80% of the grocery retail sector in the UK, Germany and France with increasing market concentration in the Czech Republic too. Supermarkets can use their subsequent buyer power not only to impose low prices but can also demand retrospective discounts, delay payments and threaten to delist (stop buying from) suppliers. As grocery market share becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer retailers, suppliers have little option but to accept such conditions.
Who should monitor supermarket behaviour?
Existing competition policy at national and at EU level does not cover abuses of buying power and their impact on non-EU suppliers, whilst national legislation cannot effectively be used to hold supermarkets for account for the impact that their purchasing practices can have in exporting regions throughout the developing world.
Corporate Social Responsibility – what does it achieve?
Many supermarkets have developed corporate social responsibility policies to address social and environmental standards along their supply chains and are signed up to a range of voluntary initiatives. Workers and their unions have however reported little if any change on the ground as a result.
‘Stop supermarkets abusing their buyer power’ petition
In 2008 civil society organisations called on MEPs to sign a Written Declaration asking the European Commission to investigate the negative impacts of supermarket buyer power. 436 MEPs signed and the Declaration was adopted.
As a result the European Commission is now developing a Code of Practice that could encourage supermarkets to improve buying practices. This is a crucial time to lobby the EC to create a Code of Practice which applies to overseas and indirect suppliers and could therefore address how abuses of buyer power negatively affect conditions for plantation workers and small farmers.
To be effective a Code of Practice needs enforcing and monitoring by an independent body that can accept anonymous complaints and thus overcome the current climate of fear amongst those supplying goods to supermarkets.
A Code of Practice and enforement body would represent some progress BUT existing competition policy at EU level does not cover abuses of buying power and their impact on non-EU suppliers. We believe that a rethinking of competition law is also needed so that new EU legislation can ensure that the people producing the goods on our supermarket shelves are treated justly and rewarded fairly for their work. Read our latest research – ‘Competiton Law and the New Slavery’ here
Sign the petition now to stop supermarkets abusing their buyer power – here
THE MAKE FRUIT FAIR CAMPAIGN:
Governments, fruit companies and retailers are responsible for the way in which workers and their environments are treated.
THEY can and need to change the situation.
WE can and should demand better labour and environmental standards. Cheap fruit has too high a cost.
The Make Fruit Fair campaign wants supermarkets, as the most powerful actors along the supply chain, to pay fair prices to their suppliers.
Banana Link is a not-for-profit co-operative based in Norwich, which works for fair and sustainable banana and pineapple trades. They raise awareness of the poor living and working conditions faced by plantation workers and small producers in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.