Bananas may be cheap and popular with the consumer, but who is paying the price? They are cheap partly because of the conditions under which they are grown. Nearly 90% of the world’s exports in bananas is controlled by six companies: Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Fyffes, Geest and Noboa. Most bananas for export are produced on huge single crop plantations in Latin America, with Ecuador accounting for nearly 40% of world trade.
Plantation workers endure long working hours and wages that don’t cover basic needs such as food, clothing and education; they are also exposed to hazardous chemicals which can cause terrible health problems including miscarriages, infertility, respiratory and skin problems.
Workers are often prevented from joining trade unions. Violent threats are not uncommon to union members and staff, and some union members find their names on lists that prevent them from gaining work on the plantations.
Fairtrade bananas have been available in the UK since 2000. The Fairtrade Mark ensures that a fair price is paid to cover the costs of production and includes a premium for social and environmental improvements.
The aim is to introduce the banana chain and see what happens to a banana before it reaches the consumer. It will also introduce you to the reality of "who gets what" in the chain.
It is suitable for a minimum of six players of all ages. Adjust the debriefing as appropriate.
You might like to use some bananas or pennies as props.
Adapted from a game initially published by Christian Aid.
AIM: to introduce the banana chain; what happens to a banana before it reaches the consumer; and to introduce the reality of ‘who gets what’ in the chain.
SUITABILITY: a minimum of 6 players of all ages. Adjust the debriefing as appropriate.
YOU WILL NEED: nothing, although you may like to use some bananas or pennies as props.
Tell the group that you are about to play a game that traces the path of the banana as it is exported from its plantation in Latin America to their fruit bowl.
Divide the group up into 5 groups that represent links in the chain. You can do this by asking the group who they think are the first people to handle a banana in the supply chain. Whoever says ‘worker’ chooses other ‘workers’ to join them.
Follow the same process to fill the roles of the plantation owner, shipper, importer/wholesaler/ripener and retailer. Make sure everyone has a role to play.
Space the groups out. Give the groups a few minutes to imagine what work their role involves, using the role cards at the end of this sheet.
Get the groups to imagine that a banana costs 30p. How much of the 30p should they get? Ask them to spend a couple of minutes discussing this, and preparing arguments why. The groups should think about all the jobs/work that they do and resources they use in the banana chain.
Ask each group to present their arguments for the amount they have decided and why. The facilitator should ensure that key points for each role are included.
Second Round: Inevitably the total from all the groups will be more than 30p. They then need to renegotiate. Put one person from each group in a straight line so that they negotiate with the player next to them as they probably would in real life.
Now reveal the true breakdown of who gets what from the final price of a Latin American banana.
You can either cut up a banana or give the supermarket 30 pennies - they would keep their share and pass the rest to the importer, who then keeps their share and passes the rest to the shipper and so on.
Worker Less than 1p
Plantation owner 5p
Note: This breakdown is fairly accurate, but is obviously simplified for the game. Each banana exporting country will have a slightly different breakdown. There is also a difference in the way profits are distributed from bananas exported from small farms and large plantations.
People often ask about the breakdown for a Fairtrade banana. This game is about ’conventional’ bananas - the way most bananas are produced, and the issue of Fairtrade is best dealt with later on in a workshop as the debate can get bogged down about the specifics of Fairtrade.
Another issue is that the amount received by a Fairtrade banana farmer varies from country to country, as the price is determined for each countries specific circumstance. The price paid means that farmers and workers receive a ’living wage’ - in other words a wage that pays for them to shelter, feed, educate their family and have a small amount left over for discretionary expenditure.
As a group of Fairtrade workers or small farmers, they are also paid a ’social premium’ which the group themselves determine how they will spend this: it could be to increase wages, community development projects, to improve production practices or environmental concerns.
Suggestions for discussion:
What does the group think?
Who benefits most/least? Is it a fair situation?
Why is the distribution of income as it is?
Who has power and why?
What could be done to improve the situation?
What role can consumers play?
Would you be prepared to pay more for your bananas if you knew workers and farmers?
got a price that would enable them to meet their basic needs?
Are participants aware of similar situations in Britain - what about the use of gang workers (migrant labour) in East Anglia?
We are connected to people around the world through the things we consume.
Many products in our shops are made from raw materials imported from the South.
Many plantation workers do not earn enough to meet their basic needs: food, shelter, clothes, medicine and schooling.
Fairtrade labelling has been introduced so that consumers can guarantee that producers get a fair deal for their work.
‘’Which bananas?’’ Leaflet available from Bananalink.
‘’Fair trade bananas’’. Leaflet available from bananaLink.
‘Best Of The Bunch: Fairtrade Bananas From Producer To Consumer. Booklet with information about Fairtrade bananas. Available from BananaLink.
‘Bananas Unpeeled’. Film documentary investigating the social and environmental conditions facing banana plantation workers and farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean. Available on video and DVD from BananaLink (£10).
‘’Unpeeling the banana trade’’. Available from the Fairtrade Foundation.
Banana Split Role Descriptions
These are only rough ideas and not comprehensive notes.
These can be used by the facilitator to ensure the different roles of the banana chain actors are clear to the participants, and what sort of things these actors need to be worrying about, what their job entails. Please not that the information below is not comprehensive, but rather to give some ideas - if you have comments please let us know.
We use 5 main actors of the banana chain (This is a slightly simplified version of the Real World, but is appropriate for the purpose of this game).
The five actors are:
The Banana Worker
The Plantation Owner
Banana Worker - the Banana Caretakers!
1. 12-14 hours/day of hard physical labour in hot conditions.
2. Selecting the best bananas.
3. Washing bananas - hands in water all day.
4. Cutting bananas - carrying heavy loads of bananas on your back.
5. Applying fertilisers and pesticides - can lead to health risks such as cancer, sterility, birth deformations in offspring.
6. Pesticides are also sprayed from planes over schools and homes.
7. You have to worry about having enough to buy food, pay medical bills or to pay to send your children to school.
8. Often discouraged or prevented from joining a trade union with other workers to ensure that your employer. respects your rights, pays you properly and provides you with decent working and living conditions.
1. Plantation Running Costs: expensive pesticides, fuel for pesticide spraying aeroplanes, tools and machinery.
2. Cost of lawyers in case workers sue them for work accidents.
3. Waste: European Regulations demand a perfect, blemish free fruit which takes a lot of investment, and still a considerable part of your crop does not suit the high demands. So every harvest you lose some money on these lost bananas.
4. Risk Factor: You bear the cost if the harvest is bad, or a hurricane or pest destroys your crop.
5. Modernisation Investments. You need funds to invest in modernisation of your plantation in order for you to stay in business.
6. Cost of Land. The longer a certain plantation is used for banana production, the more fertilisers it will need as the soil becomes depleted of important components. Therefore you need to invest in more expensive fertilisers or more land.
1. Ships: big cargo ships are very expensive to buy and maintain.
2. Fuel: One load between Latin America and Europe may take up to 5 weeks.
3. Insurance: in case a cargo is lost or damaged, for which they will be held responsible.
4. Refrigeration. On board, the bananas are kept in big fridges to prevent them from ripening during the voyage, which would make them arrive at their destination “spoilt”.
5. Port Fees. These need to be paid to port authorities on either side of the voyage.
1. Transportation: by truck from the European port to big ripening centres, and from there to the retailers.
2. Contracts: The importer is liable for contracts both to the producers he buys from (promising to buy x amount per week) and to the retailers (promising to provide them x amount of bananas per week). They must honour these, even if they are let down by one end of the chain.
3. Licence Fee. Importers pay licenses for the importation of their bananas into the EU and or UK.
4. Big Offices/Admin. Importers “need” big, fancy office buildings for the administration and bureaucracy that their role involves.
5. Ripening gas: Ethylene is used to ripen bananas.
6. Repackaging. After ripening the bananas must be repackaged.
1. Staff: Supermarkets require a lot of staff.
2. Running Costs: lighting, transport, designing of staff uniforms, carrier bags etc.
3. Developing/buying new property to stay competitive supermarkets.
4. Risk. Supermarkets must not lose their image regarding the quality of their products. If the bananas are handled badly or arrive on the shelves over-ripe, they will lose customers on the long term.
5. Image/Advertising. To attract and keep customers, supermarkets need to invest in advertising and image building.
This activity can be used as an ice breaker. The statements that participants complete and discuss in the game encourage critical thinking about the banana trade.
You can adapt this game for any group. This version is suitable for older children and adults.
YOU WILL NEED
One pen and one Globingo sheet per person
Hand out the sheets and pens
Tell participants to find someone to answer the questions on the sheet and sign the appropriate box. They must find a different person for each box on the sheet. It does not matter if the answers are right or wrong.
They should fill in as many boxes as they can in the time available. If they fill in all the boxes find the workshop facilitator. Discuss the answers that they were given relating them to the correct ones. Who found someone who …
1. can name 3 countries where bananas are grown
2. can guess how long a first class banana is according to the EU
3. knows whether the people involved in producing bananas for export mostly work on
(a) large commercial, mechanised plantations which export nearly all of their bananas
(b) small, family-owned farms
4. knows whether banana workers on big plantations are usually contracted for
(b) during the summer season when bananas are ripe for the picking
(c) short-term contracts of 3-6 months
5. can estimate how much a Nicaraguan banana worker takes home for a basic 8 hour day
6. can estimate roughly what percentage of the price of a conventional banana one of the large British supermarkets usually takes
7. what the Fairtrade MARK means for producers?
8. knows which supermarkets sell Fairtrade bananas?
9. can think of one way to promote Fairtrade?
ANSWERS AND DISCUSSION
1. 3 countries where bananas are grown:
Countries of the tropics - Africa, Latin America, Caribbean, Pacific etc - grow bananas. The important issue is that many countries produce bananas as a staple food, but that only around 20% of all bananas that are produced are actually exported. The world’s biggest exporter of bananas is Ecuador. Most bananas sold on the British market are exported from Latin America, and increasingly West Africa, as companies relocate in search of ever ‘cheaper’ bananas, pursuing a ‘Race to the Bottom’ in terms of social and environmental standards.
Countries of export (the following lists are not comprehensive lists):
Latin America: Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia export the most bananas in the world. Other Latin American exporting countries - Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Panama, Nicaragua, Suriname Caribbean: Windward Islands (St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica), Jamaica, Dominican Republic European supplying countries - i.e. that are part of the EU so don’t actually ’import’ bananas, although their bananas are traded within the EU: Martinique (France), Guadeloupe (France), Canary Islands, Greece, Portugal African: Ghana (Fairtrade plantation only), Cameroon, Ivory Coast
2. How long a first class banana is according to the EU?
Minimum of 14 cms and with less than 1cm2 of marks on the skin - but do you care? Most supermarkets have much higher quality standards than the EU, and its apparently because consumers want perfect-looking fruit and vegetables. The consequences though are that there is more waste and more intensive production methods, including high levels of pesticides, to ensure quality perfection throughout the whole crop. And the fruit inside a banana can be perfect whether there are marks on the skin or not. Despite this, if there are many ’quality’ problems with a box of bananas, the farmer or plantation owner who has supplied this fruit (this can be recognised through the codes on each box of bananas) will be told that there are problems, and may even lose the contract.
3. Do the people involved in producing bananas for export mostly work on large commercial, mechanised plantations that export nearly all of their bananas or small, family-owned farms?
Most bananas are grown on the large-scale, monoculture plantations in Latin America. In the Caribbean it is mainly small family owned farms.
4. Are banana workers on big plantations usually contracted for life, during the summer season when bananas are ripe for the picking or on short-term contracts of 3-6 months?
Most banana workers on the big plantations are on short-term contracts. This means that workers have fewer rights than permanent workers, and often lower wages etc. (Bananas are not seasonal really, so ’during the summer season’ is a red-herring!)
5. How much does a Nicaraguan banana worker take home for a basic 8 hour day?
Around US$1.20 - about 75 pence. This is about one-third the estimated value of a basic food-basket in Nicaragua. However recent reports indicate some workers are not even receiving cash wages for their work – but only green bananas.
6. What percentage of the price of a conventional banana does one of the large British supermarkets usually take?
Around 30 to 40% whilst a worker can take 1.5%. Bananas are the single biggest profit making item sold in a British supermarket. Supermarkets have become the most powerful actors along the supply chain and their low prices they pay for bananas are having a direct and negative impact on the wage levels and working conditions of banana plantation workers.
The international banana supply chain is increasingly controlled by a handful of multinational companies: just five companies control 80% of the world trade in bananas whilst in Britain supermarkets, dominated by a handful of companies led by Tesco with over 30% of the sector, sell 80% of bananas.
7. What does the Fairtrade MARK mean for producers?
The Fairtrade Mark guarantees producers a minimum price which covers basic food, housing, health and education needs. Suppliers commit to long term relationships with producers to ensure sustainable development. Farmers are supported to improve their environmental practices, to reduce dependency on pesticides and reduce waste. In addition there is a Fairtrade premium paid on every box of bananas sold which is invested by Fairtrade groups, formed by the farmers themselves, in their local communities. Visit the Fairtrade Foundation to read more about how Fairtrade works and the benefits for over a million farmers, workers and their families.
8. Where can you buy Fairtrade bananas?
Waitrose, Sainsbury, Morrison’s, Asda, Tesco, Budgens, Somerfield, Out of this World and Co-op (who were the first to launch in January 2000) all sell Fairtrade bananas in at least some of their stores in Britain. In 2006 Sainsbury announced that it was converting 100% of its banana supplies to Fairtrade, with a commitment to sourcing 40% from small farmers (mainly the Dominican Republic and the Windward Islands). Nearly 90% of bananas exported from the Windward Islands now carry the Fairtrade label, with plans to convert to 100% in 2008.
9. Ways you can support Fairtrade
There are many ways in which you can support Fairtrade production, below are just a few ideas:
Choose Fairtrade products when you shop.
If you cannot find Fairtrade bananas in your local supermarket, fill in a customer comment card or ask to speak to the manager and request that Fairtrade bananas are stocked.
Encourage your local, independent shop to stock Fairtrade – Banana Link can provide information on wholesale sources.
Work with friends and colleagues to make your church, village, town, school or university Fairtrade – visit www.fairtrade.org.uk for more information about how!
Introduce Fairtrade products into your workplace – with information about what Fairtrade means for producers.
Learn more about Fairtrade and tell your friends and family all about how it benefits farmers and workers – many people learn about Fairtrade by word of mouth!
Submit a motion supporting Fairtrade at your union conference. Visit Support Caribbean Bananas and lobby the British government to continue supporting Caribbean small producers, many of whom are Fairtrade registered.
Contact Banana Link and become Supporters – receive information updates and requests for action from our Latin American and Caribbean partners and work towards creating a more sustainable banana industry.
Find someone to answer the questions on the sheet and sign the appropriate box. You must find a different person for each question below It does not matter if the answers are right or wrong.
1. Bananas are grown in......
2. A first class banana according to the EU is at least...cm long.
3. Most people who workin the banana industry work on (a) Large plantations. (b) small family farms.
4. A banana worker’s contract is usually (a) for life (b) in the summer (c) short-term (3-6 months).
5. A Nicaraguan banana worker takes home $US for a basic 8 hour day.
6. A supermarket can take more than……% of the price of a banana.
7. The Fairtrade MARK means ………………for producers.
8. I’ve bought Fairtrade bananas recently in..............which supermarket.
9. One way in which I could/do support Fairtrade is....