Importing affordable whole fruits in bulk from low-cost exporters has effectively increased the availability of fresh produce in most (fairly) developed countries. The year of 2012 witnessed the huge demand from world’s five largest banana importers: EU, US, Russian, China and Japan consuming 73% of 16.5 million tons of bananas exported. While citizens in importing countries benefited from the low-cost produce that have grown available in most grocery stores of their country, numerous people in exporting countries suffered from the production-related environmental and social problem.
The pressure from major importers on banana supply chain has facilitated worker abuse and suppression in most exporting countries. In order to keep the price low and production ample, some Latin American plantations sub-contract labors to secondary employers or shell companies, which recklessly underpay and overwork the labors with impunity, in most cases. In case the government agencies, which typically overlook the situation, decide to take action against labor abuse, only shell companies that are technically irrelevant to plantation owners will take the blow. According to BananaLink, an UK-based non-for-profit organization that works for “fair and sustainable trade of bananas and pineapples”, sub-contract labors toiling in Latin American banana plantations often fail to earn enough to feed their families. Moreover, due to a lack of proper protection equipment and routine agrochemicals exposure, health problems like intoxication-induced fertilization are plaguing many banana labors. Besides health compromise, explicit or implicit gender discrimination against women is serious in some exporting countries too. Women are considered “high-cost, high-risk” workers and thus partially excluded from jobs in plantations, while the few women working there often fall victims of sexual harassment. Workers’ freedom of forming and joining trade unions is undermined in some exporting countries. To further limit the cost, many producers do not hesitant in resorting to violence even assassination when encountering organized labor resistance. Environmentally, the industrial production of bananas, as that of many other produces, undermines ecological environment in exporting countries. Problems like flooding, soil erosion and water will reinforce the existing social problems. Considering that many exporter countries rely on the monotonous production of certain goods, the lack of economic options in addressing social problems may drag exporting countries into magnifying vicious cycles.
To learn more, please check out the 2009 movie BANANAS!*, which depicts a human right lawsuit regarding labor abuses in banana plantations in Nicaragua. Intriguing and vexing, the movie incurred both enthusiastic support and heated controversy, although the latter is mainly about factual, rather than ideological, inaccuracies. At least, I learned to thank Nicaraguans for Nicaraguan bananas in our dining halls.