How can we get to a living income for banana growers and workers?
Hans-Willem: We been talking about it for years, and there has been some progress, but it is far too slow. Even now, with so much debate about the legacies of colonialism and slavery, we apparently accept that exploitation is happening right now on our doorsteps. Every banana that we eat comes from by exploiting people who are simply not being paid enough. It’s essentially a moral question: What gives us the right to buy a kilo of bananas for 99 euro cents while at the same time the people growing them don’t even get enough money to cover their basic needs? What right do we have to exploit a family in Nicaragua earning US$120 a month?
I hear people saying, “Yes, but it’s complicated, it’s difficult, we need to study it more deeply, it will take many years.” We talk about initiatives “towards” a living wage – but it’s not going fast enough. Give me one good reason why this should persist and why the growers must continue to live in poverty so that we can eat cheap bananas. When people ask how we can move faster towards a living wage, it’s quite simple – I say: “Buy more Fairtrade bananas.” If retailers are serious, they should convert to 100 percent Fairtrade. That wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would be a really significant step.
The multinationals and retailers say it’s difficult to increase the price of bananas to enable producers to earn a living wage. But let’s look at the calculations. In Nicaragua, for example, if you want to reach a living wage, you need to pay around US$0.50 extra per box. Last year, because of lower oil prices, the cost of shipping fell by the same amount – US$0.50 a box. The trade partners could have said: “If we pass on that 50 cents saving to the workers, we won’t lose any money but they will reach a living wage.” Immediately you raise the bar, no-one in the supply chain is any worse off – it could have been done without any cost to anyone. And if shipping costs increase again in the future, everyone will pay a little bit more and no-one notices. It’s simple logic.