Bananas are one of the most popular and most consumed fruits in the world. Yet, large multinational corporations control a large percentage of the banana trade; Dole and Chiquita together control more than 50%. Most bananas are produced in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and reports of unfair labor conditions among the large corporate plantations abound. Fair Trade is cutting out the corporate influence by providing banana farmers a direct connection into the marketplace.
Fair Trade Banana Cooperative
El Guabo, Ecuador
Profile adapted from information provided by Oké USA
Photo by R. Van Den Bergh via Oké USA/AgroFair
Formed in 1997, the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers has changed thousands of lives. It is one of the world’s leading producers of Fair Trade bananas, exporting around 30,000 boxes a week to Europe and the USA. With headquarters in the town of El Guabo in the south-west of Ecuador, it represents growers from 339 family farms in 15 different communities. In the absence of Fair Trade, growers sold their bananas through intermediaries, a system that often meant payment was too low to cover basic costs, making fair wages impossible. Fair Trade has meant a guaranteed fair wage and long-term supply contract.
El Guabo cooperative members democratically decide on community development projects to be funded with money from Fair Trade. The cooperative has implemented many projects:
- El Guabo offers healthcare benefits to families of cooperative workers and members. The cooperative provides free medical care to anyone who wants to use the El Guabo clinic. Fair Trade funds also paid for the medical equipment in the clinic.
- Workers are affiliated with the social security system, ensuring that each receives retirement benefits.
- Those in need of nutritional support are given food baskets.
- Education for local children has improved dramatically. A stipend for school supplies is provided to all children in the community and some families are sending their children to college for the first time. A school for children with special needs has been built and staffed by El Guabo's Fair Trade funds.
- After devastating floods in first quarter of 2008, El Guabo's farms were in need of repair that could only be provided by a bobcat excavator. Donations from the Fair Trade community in the United States, including Green America members, contributed $38,000 towards the purchase of an excavator for El Guabo.
If you want a fairer world you can make it happen … by helping disadvantaged producers, buying their products and spreading the Fair Trade message. I think the Fair Trade premium should be invested in education because educated people are free people.
-Silvia Ramírez, farmer and vice-president of El Guabo, Ecuador
See the effects of Fair Trade for yourself in this three minute video about a different banana growing cooperative in the Dominican Republic.
More about bananas:
- Without Fair Trade, fruit farmers often receive only a few cents a pound for their crop, far below the cost of production. In Ecuador, the cost of basic necessities for a family of four is $9.60 a day, but on non-Fair Trade farms, workers may earn as little as $3 a day, according to TransFair USA.
- A 2002 Human Rights Watch report claims that banana workers in Ecuador are the victims of serious human rights abuses. The report found that Ecuadorian children as young as eight work on banana plantations. The children earned an average of $3.50 per day, which is approximately 60% of the legal minimum wage for banana workers.
- Fair Trade certification for bananas, and other fruits such as mangoes, pineapples, and grapes, ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their fruit, and that farmworkers have good working conditions and receive fair wages. According to TransFair USA, the Fair Trade price is set to allow farmers to cover the costs of sustainable production, without the use of harmful agrochemicals, and provide a decent standard of living for farming families.
- Fair Trade farms are thoroughly inspected at least once a year to ensure that these standards are met.
- In addition to the fair price, small farmer cooperatives and plantation worker organizations receive a premium to invest in education, healthcare and crop diversification.
With Fair Trade we have an incentive to invest in social programs that benefit producers and the community. We also receive higher incomes to sustain ourselves. If it were not for Fair Trade, we wouldn't exist as banana producers since the amount we receive for a box of conventional bananas does not cover our expenses.
—Edinson Cabana Zapata, member, ASOPROBAN, Colombia
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