Kiwis are crazy about bananas. We spend over $142 million each year on bananas alone, and import more bananas (per capita) than any other country in the world.¹
But it’s no great secret that there are serious problems in the banana industry. Over the last twenty years, the majority of small-scale farmers have been squeezed out of the market by the big gun banana companies (you know the ones) – and the majority of people working on those plantations are overworked, underpaid (most plantation workers earn less than $3 per day!) and overexposed to harmful pesticides.²
So until recently, the only truly ethical choice when it came to bananas, was not to eat them. So it was a relief when a fair trade option finally appeared on our supermarket shelves.
In 2010, All Good Bananas began importing certified Fairtrade bananas from the El Guabo cooperative in Ecuador, and my friends and I were only too happy to pay a little more to know that we weren’t exploiting growers in the two-thirds world.
But given that bananas are such big business here, it’s no surprise that competitors weren’t too thrilled to have this new kid on the block.
Sure enough, only a few months after All Good Bananas appeared on supermarket shelves, Dole NZ rolled out a new ‘Ethical Choice’ branding. New Zealand consumers were now presented with two seemingly ethical options – one of which, tellingly, was still as cheap as its non-ethical competitors.
In reality, the only change Dole had made to their modus operandi was to slap pretty new labels on their bananas (and pineapples). This is another classic example of greenwashing; of a company using deceptive marketing to appeal to those consumers who genuinely want to make ethical purchasing decisions. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who bought Dole bananas thinking they really were making an ethical choice. Why did they think this? Not because they’re stupid; because they were misled by a company more concerned with amassing profits than paying their workers a living wage.
So I was gratified when the issue hit the media earlier this month, after the Commerce Commission issued Dole with a compliance letter raising concerns about their ‘Ethical Choice’ marketing. The letter stated that the stickers misled consumers to believe that Dole bananas were certified by an independent third party (which they aren’t), and made their bananas seem more ethical than their competitors (which they aren’t).
And what have Dole done about it? Well, nothing. They’ve kept their stickers on the bananas and the bananas on the shelves – safe in their assumption that most shoppers are too busy to question whether the marketing is true.
This highlights again just how important it is for us as consumers to take responsibility for questioning and researching the products that we buy.
“It’s really hard for consumers to understand what has been greenwashed, and what is the truth,” says Chris Morrison, from All Good Bananas. “That’s why we think independent verification is so important.”
“Those companies that do go the extra mile and pay a little bit more to be certified should be supported.”
You can find out more about our friends at All Good Bananas, and where to buy their bananas, here.
What do you think? Are you more likely to buy a product marketed as ethical? How often do you question or research the products you buy? Tell us here!
A huge thanks to Sam Mahayni, All Good Bananas for the photos of the banana growers at origin.