Bananas

Countries Where Bananas are Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

Bananas Commodity Risk Map

Bananas are reportedly produced with forced labor (FL) and/or child labor (CL) in the following countries:

Belize (CL)
Brazil (CL)
Ecuador (CL)
Nicaragua (CL)
Philippines (CL)

Top ten countries that produce bananas worldwide (FAOSTAT 2017):

  1. India
  2. China
  3. Indonesia
  4. Brazil
  5. Ecuador
  6. The Philippines
  7. Angola
  8. Guatemala
  9. Colombia
  10. Tanzania

Top ten countries that export bananas (including plantains) worldwide (UN Comtrade 2018):[1]

  1. Ecuador
  2. The Philippines
  3. Guatemala
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Belgium
  6. Colombia
  7. Netherlands
  8. United States
  9. Dominican Republic
  10. Honduras

 

[1] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics). http://www.intracen.org/

Top ten countries that import bananas (including plantains) worldwide (UN Comtrade 2018):[2]

  1. United States
  2. Belgium
  3. Russia
  4. Netherlands
  5. Germany
  6. Japan
  7. China
  8. United Kingdom
  9. France
  10. Italy

[2] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics). http://www.intracen.org/

Where are bananas reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of State 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, bananas are listed as being produced with forced labor in Ecuador.[1] According to the U.S. Department of Labor 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, bananas are reportedly produced with child labor in Belize, Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, and with both child labor and forced child labor in Ecuador.[2]

According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, Belize and Nicaragua have a Tier 2 Watch List ranking, Ecuador and Brazil have a Tier 2 ranking, and the Philippines has a Tier 1 ranking.[3]

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[1] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2019. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Trafficking-in-Persons-Report.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2018. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/ListofGoods.pdf

[3] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2019. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Trafficking-in-Persons-Report.pdf

What does trafficking and/or child labor look like in the production of bananas?

On banana plantations, child labor can occur when children accompany their parents to the plantations to assist their parents or to supplement family income. This is especially common in areas where prices for bananas are extremely low.[1] Children of poor, indigenous, or otherwise vulnerable or marginalized families may be at heightened risk.[2] Other labor violations noted in the sector include hazardous working conditions, pesticide exposure, wage and hour violations, discrimination, and restrictions of freedom of association.[3]

A study by Oxfam New Zealand reported that banana plantation laborers in the Philippines may be hired by middlemen who deploy them to various plantations or farms, including small to medium scale plantations and farms as well as plantations and farms owned by corporate growers. These growers then sell bananas to major global brands such as Dole, Chiquita, or Del Monte.[4] Among adult and child workers interviewed in plantation towns in the Philippines, 22.5 percent of households reportedly have a child working, according to a 2015 study by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education Research (EILER). This study also indicated that 76 percent of child laborers in the studied population no longer attended school. On these banana plantations, child laborers are assigned to bagging and stripping off banana leaves or peeling bananas that are unfit to sell and that end up in dry animal feed.[5] The Oxfam New Zealand study on Philippine banana plantations noted that most child laborers worked eight to 12 hours a day.[6] Children working on plantations were often unaccompanied and lived in makeshift tents.[7]

Child labor has been noted in the banana sector in Brazil. Analysis of the Government of Brazil’s National Household Survey estimated that 2,936 children under the age of 14 were involved in cultivating bananas in 2015.[8] According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2017 Findings of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, 57 percent of child laborers in Brazil were working in agriculture, with high concentration in the North and Northeast regions, regions in which bananas are cultivated.[9]

Child laborers packing sacks of bananas were also documented in Western Uganda, where they were working to earn books and school fees.[10]

In Guatemala, internal indigenous migrants provide most seasonal agricultural labor. Third party labor brokers are often responsible for hiring these workers, which is a risk factor for forced labor. Indigenous women workers may be at a greater relative risk of forced labor due to gender discrimination, isolation, and sexual harassment.[11]

Violence and harassment toward union representatives on banana plantations has been reported in multiple country contexts. Oxfam reported that in the Philippines, workers attempting to unionize faced harassment, including physical violence. Labor activists working in agriculture in Honduras have received regular threats.[12] While they are able to access trainings through their union membership, women banana workers in Honduras reported unequal pay and sexual harassment, as well as the economic pressure of piece rate payment when packing bananas into boxes.[13] In Costa Rica, repression of unions has been documented on banana plantations. Delayed wage payment, poor working conditions, and alleged illegal dismissals have motivated large worker strikes, primarily among indigenous Panamanian migrants.[14]  In Guatemala, seven members of the Union of Agroindustrial and Related Workers (STAS) were murdered between 2011-2012,[15] and if banana workers attempt to organize as they have in recent years, they face harassment, threats, and murder.[16]

In Ecuador, as part of a 2019 complaint filed by the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC), a banana workers’ union that organizes approximately 1,500 workers, a worker survey[17] found multiple violations. Responses showed that 68 percent of the 117 respondents lacked formal contracts. Of those that did have a written contract, 82 per cent did not receive a copy and did not know the nature of their employment agreement. Most only found out more information when they were dismissed from their jobs. In this survey, 70.3 percent of workers reported not receiving pay slips and having no way of identifying their overtime hours. Over half of respondents reported not receiving legislated annual bonuses, and it was reported that necessary PPE and tools were deducted from workers’ salaries. In one case, workers were threatened with blacklisting if they belonged to a union. Unfair dismissals of workers, the lack of living wages, harassment of labor unions, and the health effects of harmful pesticides on workers were confirmed by a 2019 investigation of the banana sector by the Ecuadorean Ombudsman.[18] Swedwatch reported that the coordinator of the ASTAC received death threats for filing the complaint and faced prosecution by his government, despite the Ombudsman investigation.[19]

Banana production is pesticide intensive because of the monoculture nature of production. One such pesticide that is used in banana production, chlorpyrifos, poses a risk to children as a neurotoxin.[20] Chlorpyrifos can cause nausea, lung congestion, chest pain, dizziness, respiratory paralysis and death.[21] Children are especially sensitive to chlorpyrifos toxicity. Benomyl and chloropropane are two other pesticides used in commercial banana fields, both of which have been found to be carcinogenic and linked to birth defects.[22] Studies of banana production areas in Mexico and the Philippines have found that contact with the fungicide mancozeb and its derivative ethylene thiourea (ETU) can alter thyroid function, leaving children and pregnant workers at a higher vulnerability to negative health effects.[23]

The spraying of chemicals, including pesticides and fungicides, on banana plantations in Kachin State, Myanmar has contaminated groundwater and soil rendering wells unusable and resulting in adverse effects on local communities.[24] Banana production in Kachin State has expanded rapidly in recent years, and villagers have reported that farmland and community-managed plots have been confiscated by Myanmar-based companies to develop banana plantations with the support of foreign investments.[25] Media reports indicate that migrants from numerous regions of Myanmar work on these banana plantations and that banana plantations are being established, in some cases, on land previously occupied by internally displaced persons following conflict in Kachin State.[26]

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[1] Forero, Juan. “In Ecuador’s Banana Fields, Child Labor Is Key to Profits.” New York Times. July 13, 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/13/world/in-ecuador-s-banana-fields-child-labor-is-key-to-profits.html

Medina, Andrei and GMA News. “Dole: Three Million Pinoy Child Workers Engaged in ‘Hazardous Labor.’” GMA News. June 27, 2012. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/263274/news/nation/dole-three-million-pinoy-child-workers-engaged-in-hazardous-labor

[2] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2019. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019-Trafficking-in-Persons-Report.pdf

[3] Make Fruit Fair. “Serious abuses of labour rights in Costa Rica and Honduras.” 2015. http://makefruitfair.org/serious-abuses-of-labour-rights-in-costa-rica-and-honduras/

U.S. Department of Labor. Public Report of Review of U.S. Submission 2012-01 (Honduras). February 27, 2015.  https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/legacy/files/Final_Report_of_Review-Honduras_Submission_022715_redacted.pdf Food Empowerment Project. Peeling Back the Truth on Bananas. https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/bananas/

Banana Link. Social Problems. http://www.bananalink.org.uk/social-problems

[4] Oxfam New Zealand. “The Labour and Environmental Situation in Philippine Banana Plantations Exporting to New Zealand.” May 2013. https://www.oxfam.org.nz/sites/default/files/reports/Conditions%20in%20Philippine%20Banana%20Plantations%20Exporting%20to%20New%20Zealand%20%282%29.pdf

[5] Palatino, Mong. “Rising Child Labor Abuse in the Philippines.” The Diplomat. February 17, 2015. http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/rising-child-labor-abuse-in-the-philippines/

Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education Research (EILER). Child Labor in the Philippines. January 2015.

Child Labor in the Philippines

[6] Oxfam New Zealand. “The Labour and Environmental Situation in Philippine Banana Plantations Exporting to New Zealand.” May 2013. https://www.oxfam.org.nz/sites/default/files/reports/Conditions%20in%20Philippine%20Banana%20Plantations%20Exporting%20to%20New%20Zealand%20%282%29.pdf

[7] Palatino, Mong. “Rising Child Labor Abuse in the Philippines.” The Diplomat. February 17, 2015. http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/rising-child-labor-abuse-in-the-philippines/

[8] U.S. Department of Labor. 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2018. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/ListofGoods.pdf

[9] U.S. Department of Labor. 2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. 2017. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2017/Brazil.pdf

[10] Gitta, Alex. “Uganda: Child labor continues despite new anti-exploitation laws”. Deutsche Welle. August 2, 2018. https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-child-labor-continues-despite-new-anti-exploitation-laws/a-42500637

[11] Ergon. New data on detecting forced labour in agriculture. January 5, 2018. https://www.isealalliance.org/sites/default/files/resource/2019-02/Forced_Labour_Literature_Review_0.pdf

[12] Connell, Tula. “Honduran Worker Rights Activists Face Rising Violence”. April 19, 2017. Solidarity Center.  https://www.solidaritycenter.org/honduran-worker-rights-activists-face-rising-violence/

[13] Gausi, Tamara. “’We put ourselves in God’s hands’ – a Honduran banana packer speaks out against violence and harassment.” November 24, 2017. Equal Times. https://www.equaltimes.org/we-put-ourselves-in-god-s-hands-a#.XSOluehJHcs

[14] Ortiz, Diego Arguedas. “Banana Workers’ Strike Highlights Abuses by Corporations in Costa Rica”. Tierramérica.  March 18, 2015. http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/

[15] Luxner, Larry. “Guatemalan banana bosses deny they’re exploiting campesinos.” The Tico Times, April 22, 2014. http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/22/guatemalan-banana-bosses-deny-theyre-exploiting-campesinos

[16] Díaz, María Gabriela. “Guatemala: 68 Union Leaders Murdered before a Single Arrest”. June 4, 2014. Panam Post. https://panampost.com/marcela-estrada/2014/06/03/guatemala-68-union-leaders-murdered-before-a-single-arrest/?cn-reloaded=1

[17] Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas Bananeros y Campesinos (ASTAC). Complaint from banana workers for violation of rights. 2016. https://www.oxfam.de/system/files/studie_englisch_complaint_from_banana_workers.pdf

[18] Defensoría del Pueblo Ecuador. “Defensoría del Pueblo Verifica Vulneraciones de Derechos Humanos en Las Provincias de Producción Bananera de Ecuador”. April 12, 2019. https://www.dpe.gob.ec/defensoria-del-pueblo-verifica-vulneraciones-de-derechos-humanos-en-las-provincias-de-produccion-bananera-de-ecuador/

[19] Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas Bananeros y Campesinos (ASTAC). Complaint from banana workers for violation of rights. 2016. https://www.oxfam.de/system/files/studie_englisch_complaint_from_banana_workers.pdf

Swedwatch. Defender Reporting on Banana Sector Risks Prosecution. May 14, 2019. https://swedwatch.org/en/publication/defender-reporting-banana-sector-risks-prosecution/

[20] Lunder, Sonya. Banana Cultivation is Pesticide Intensive. Environmental Working Group. April 28, 2014. http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2014/04/bananas

[21] United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Chlorpyrifos.” Epa.gov. July 25, 2019. https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/chlorpyrifos

[22] ProMusa. “Fungicides used in banana plantations.” September 2016. http://www.promusa.org/Fungicides+used+in+banana+plantations#Chlorotalonil

World Resources Institute. Sterilization of workers from pesticide exposure: the causes and consequences of DBCP-induced damage in Costa Rica and beyond. 1991. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1769760

Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP. Philippine banana workers seek damages for DBCP exposure. August 12, 2011. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=0cf33ea9-5fe2-4c30-a812-04b7f336e5e6

National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides and Beyond Pesticides. Chemical Watch Factsheet: Benomyl. 1987. http://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/Benomyl.pdf

[23] Cooper, Anna. Women in the Banana Export Industry Regional Report on Latin America. May 2015. Banana Link. http://www.bananalink.org.uk/sites/default/files/ENG_Latin%20America%20report_FAO%20Gender%20research%202015.pdf

[24]Thar, Chan. “Chinese banana plantations flourish as villagers lose their land in Kachin”. The Myanmar Times. June 22 2018. https://www.mmtimes.com/news/chinese-banana-plantations-flourish-villagers-lose-their-land-kachin.html

Hein Ko Soe and Ben Dunant. “Kachin’s plantation curse.” Frontier Myanmar. January 17, 2019. https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/kachins-plantation-curse

[25] Hein Ko Soe and Ben Dunant. “Kachin’s plantation curse.” Frontier Myanmar. January 17, 2019. https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/kachins-plantation-curse

[26] Hein Ko Soe and Ben Dunant. “Kachin’s plantation curse.” Frontier Myanmar. January 17, 2019. https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/kachins-plantation-curse

Bananas Production and Supply Chain

Bananas can typically only be cultivated in wet, tropical climates. The sweet, seedless fruit that are commonly referred to as bananas are technically classified as dessert bananas, in contrast to plantains and cooking bananas. Dessert bananas make up the majority of banana production and exports. They are grown either from a bulb or from a rhizome that produces a clone of the intended tree. In smaller operations, surrounding undergrowth vegetation is cleared or suppressed with a sickle or herbicide, and one hole per tree is dug into the ground with three to four meters between each one. In larger plantation operations, tilling of surrounding undergrowth is mechanized. Seedlings are propagated in labs and are transferred to a nursery until they are suitable for transplanting in the field.[1] Over the course of nine to 12 months, the rhizome develops into a tall herbaceous plant. Once grown, banana bunches are very heavy and require more than one person to cut them down and carry them. A large number of manual laborers are required for harvesting.[2]

The fruit is cut from the tree while still green, and they are cut into bunches and washed.

The Cavendish banana, developed to replace the disease-vulnerable Gros Michel (“Big Mike”) variety, accounts for 99 percent of exports. Given that plantations are made up of nearly genetically identical trees, they are still vulnerable to fungus outbreaks, some of which are not chemically treatable.[3]

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[1] Gonçalves, André Luiz. Banana production methods: A comparative study. July 2014. Centro Ecológico. https://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/sites/default/files/dokument-media/banana_report_final_version.pdf

UN Conference on Trade and Development. Commodity Profile: Banana. 2016. http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/INFOCOMM_cp01_Banana_en.pdf

[3] Fleming, Nic. “Science’s search for a super banana”. The Guardian. August 5, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/05/science-search-for-a-super-banana-panama-disease-gm-gene-editing

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Bananas Production Affect Me?

A worker collects coffee cherries in a basket

Bananas are one of the top five fruits consumed worldwide, and they are the number one fruit traded based on quantity. In addition to whole fruit consumption, bananas can be used in baby food and as flavoring in food products, such as yogurt; they are consumed domestically as banana flour and powder, banana juice, and banana alcohol.[1]

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), each American eats an average of 13.5 pounds of bananas each year, making it the number one fresh fruit consumed.[2] Over 95 percent of the 5,167,170 tons of bananas that the U.S. imported in 2018 were grown in Latin American nations. In 2018, the top five countries exporting bananas to the United States were Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico.[3] Four companies, Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte, and Bonita control over 80 percent of the banana market in the U.S.[4]

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[1] UN Conference on Trade and Development. Commodity Profile: Banana Uses. 2012. http://www.unctad.info/en/Infocomm/AACP-Products/COMMODITY-PROFILE—Banana

UN Conference on Trade and Development. Agricultural Products: Banana Market. 2011. http://www.unctad.info/en/Infocomm/Agricultural_Products/Banana/Market/

[2] U.S. Department of Agriculture. Oranges and apples are America’s top fruit choices. 2014. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58322

[3] International Trade Center (ITC Calculations based on UNCOMTRADE Statistics). http://www.intracen.org/

[4] International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). Industries: Bananas. http://www.laborrights.org/industries/bananas

EXAMPLES

What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

Since the 2002 release of an extensive Human Rights Watch (HRW) report exposing child labor on Ecuadorian banana plantations,[1] the government has made significant efforts to remedy the issue. New regulations raised the minimum age of employment to 15, banned children from dangerous work, and imposed higher fines on employers caught employing children. The Project to Eradicate Child Labor (PETI) has educated almost 10,000 people about the problem of child labor in the provinces of Los Rios and Bolivar.[2]

Dole Europe committed to ensuring that its banana supply chains are fully sustainable by 2020, signing on to SIVAF, a European initiative aimed at improving companies’ environmental and social track records and by strengthening their knowledge, capacity, and communication with suppliers and farmers.[3]

Through the USLEAP program, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is working with banana unions in Latin America and allies in the United States to build a solidarity campaign to support the right for workers to freely associate and bargain collectively.[4]

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[1] Human Rights Watch (HRW). Tainted Harvest: Child Labor and Obstacles to Organizing on Ecuador’s Banana Plantations. April 2002. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/ecuador/2002ecuador.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2017 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. 2017. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ILAB/child_labor_reports/tda2017/Ecuador.pdf

[3] The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). Sustainability Initiative Fruits and Vegetables (SIFAV). https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/initiative/sifav/

Knowles, Mike. “Dole reorganises CSR division.” Euro Fruit. July 1, 2014. http://www.fruitnet.com/eurofruit/article/161992/dole-reorganises-csr-division

[4] International Labor Rights Forum. https://laborrights.org/programs/usleap

LEARN MORE

  • Read a 2018 Oxfam report on poverty among banana farmers in the Philippines.
  • Watch a short documentary on working conditions for banana farmers in Ecuador.
  • Read an article on the challenges posed by banana pricing.