LONDON, 8 JUNE: They are Britain&’s favourite fruit, but our passion for cheap bananas has helped spark an industrial dispute among growers in Colombia which could disrupt supplies to the UK.
More than 18,000 workers in the Latin American country have voted in favour of strike action over pay cuts this week. Colombia is one of the biggest international suppliers of bananas ~ accounting for 25 per cent of those imported to the UK last year ~ and NGOs have warned strike action may cause supply trouble for retailers. One UK organisation, Banana Link, predicted the flow of more than a million bananas a week could dry up as quickly as a fortnight from the start of the proposed strike in a week&’s time.
Campaigners claim that UK supermarkets’ increasing pressure for low banana prices is unsustainable. According to the The Fairtrade Foundation, bananas were selling for roughly £1.10 a kg in the UK in 2002, yet today a kilo of bananas costs around 68p.
Tesco sells some of the cheapest bananas, with their ‘Everyday value bananas’ selling at 14p each, while Waitrose organic bananas are sold for 31p each.
Barbara Crowther, Fairtrade Foundation&’s director of policy and public affairs, said: “Bananas are the UKs favourite fruit ~ we eat more bananas than any other fruit and so they are seen as an iconic product by retailers. Therefore there&’s a very competitive environment around the price of bananas.
“We now have a situation where the price of bananas at this end of the supply chain, are being held very, very low.
“We believe pricing to be unsustainable,” said Ms Crowther. “It should be about getting more value back down the supply chain in order to address these issues at the farm level. We need to look at a sustainable pricing level.”
Sintrainagro, the Colombian agricultural workers union which represents around 90 per cent of the country&’s banana exporters, had been locked in negotiations with the banana industry body, Augura, which represents 90 per cent of banana producers in the Uraba region. Talks broke down last week and members’ balloted to strike. Workers have until 17 June to set a strike date if an agreement over pay cannot be reached.
Banana Link, an NGO based in the UK, told food consumer magazine The Grocer a strike was likely to have an effect on supply, due to the large volumes of bananas from the country sold in the UK.
The NGO said there was a chance the strike could be averted, but due to the huge gap between Augura&’s proposal to cut the rate for some jobs by 40 per cent, and what the union expects, it was unlikely.