Social Implications of Banana Consumption

Rotten Fruit: The Social Implications of the Banana Economy
    When you buy a banana at a supermarket, you are purchasing a product responsible for the social ills of thousands of plantation workers. Who are these workers, those that grow the food, pick it, and send it thousands of miles so that it can be enjoyed as your afternoon snack? The banana a typical consumer is accustomed to eating will probably have it’s origins in a topical country such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, or the Philippines. In these countries, the banana plantations offer employment where none would be found otherwise, yet the treatment such workers endure under corporate management is nowhere near what would be considered “fair” in a developed nation. Not only is the monetary reward for this work minimal but the working conditions are often dangerous and result in many work-related illnesses or even death.

Cheap Labor
    Given that bananas are grown mostly in developing nations, it is not much of a surprise that field workers are already in the lowest of economic brackets. The jobs provided by these multi-national agribusinesses can afford to have unfair and dangerous working conditions because the people in these countries are so desperate for money that workers are easily replaced. It is estimated that 80 percent of ‘banana families’ in Costa Rica are living in slums.1 The socio-economic situations of these families can be directly traced to the paltry wages these workers earn. The average Costa Rican banana worker brought home only 160 dollars a month in 2001, a 90 dollar decrease since 1993.2

Chemical Exposure
defect     Not only are workers paid meager wages, but the working conditions are hazardous to the health of workers in more than one way. Workers must constantly handle dangerous chemicals without proper protective equipment and they are also showered with these poisonous chemicals during aerial fumigations.3  This mixture of humans and chemicals, such as bitertanol and tridemorph, has caused thousands of men to become sterilized and hundreds of children to be born with birth defects such as deformed fingers and joints.4  These tragedies are not limited to the sphere of permanent deformity. There is a reason that these chemicals are banned in the United States. That reason is that human exposure can and does result in cancer or death.5 

Violence and Scare Tactics
    With conditions as bad as these it would only make sense to try and better them through labor unions and negotiations with the companies. Unfortunately, the companies hold nearly all the cards and plenty of influence with the local and national governments. Attempts to unionize are often struggles of life and death. One example of these anti-union tactics was brought to light by The New Internationalist in a March 2000 article on the events surrounding a labor protest. Workers for Bandegua, a Guatemalan subsidiary of Del Monte Fresh Produce, gathered for a meeting to organize a protest of the firings of nearly 1,000 workers from three plantations. The meeting was cut short by the arrival of 200 heavily armed men. The protestors were told that Bandegua would leave Guatemala if the group went through with their protest.6  Needless to say the protest was called off in addition to the forced resignation of the union’s leaders. These events are not isolated to Guatemala alone. Since 1989, twenty leaders and more than four hundred members of the Colombian SINTRAINAGRO union have been assassinated.7
1Blythman, Joanna “Bent Bananas” The Ecologist. Volume 35 Issue 4, May 2005.
2Smith, Jeremy “An Unappeeling Industry” The Ecologist. Volume 32 Issue 3, April 2002.
3Gallagher, Mark and McWhirter, Cameron “The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Censored Scoop” Earth Island Journal. Volume 13 Issue 4, Fall 1998.
4Blythman, Joanna “Bent Bananas” The Ecologist. Volume 35 Issue 4, May 2005.
5Gallagher, Mark and McWhirter, Cameron “The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Censored Scoop” Earth Island Journal. Volume 13 Issue 4, Fall 1998.
6Ransom, David “Gunfired” New Internationalist. Issue 321, March 2000.