Fairtrade Ireland has asked all retailers to reveal the percentage of Fairtrade bananas they stock, in light of a report which shows that Irish people eat fewer Fairtrade bananas than those in other EU states.
Fairtrade Bananas – Time for a Change? found just 8 per cent of bananas eaten in Ireland are Fairtrade produce. This compares to 35 per cent in the UK and 60 per cent in Switzerland.
The report says this is directly attributable to the failure of Irish retailers to support Fairtrade.
Fruit can only carry the Fairtrade mark if the producer guarantees a fair price to growers, decent working conditions and wages, and improved environmental practices.
While prices vary greatly, Fairtrade bananas are often as cheap, if not less, than non-Fairtrade produce, depending on the supermarket.
Alistair Smith, international co-ordinator of UK charity Banana Link and co-author of the report, said 90 per cent of fresh fruit was bought from a mainstream supermarket in this State.
“Irish retailers remain weakly committed to Fairtrade when compared to other European countries,” he said. “They could do a huge amount more to address the negative impacts of the conventional banana trade.
“If the top Irish retailers, namely Dunnes Stores, Tesco Ireland and Musgrave, committed to stocking 100 per cent Fairtrade bananas, similar to European counterparts, this would have a dramatic and significant impact on the livelihoods of workers, families and communities in developing countries.”
However, Tesco Ireland defended its banana sourcing policy. A spokeswoman said 14 per cent of Tesco Ireland banana sales were Fairtrade. “The remainder of our bananas are sourced from Costa Rica where we pay our banana growers on average 6 per cent above the Fairtrade minimum prices.”
She said the company had made significant changes to its banana supply-chain and now worked directly with a select number of farms. “In 2014, 86 per cent of our bananas were sourced from 34 farms in Costa Rica,” she said. “This direct approach means we can ensure that our growers are operating to the highest ethical standards; protecting workers, communities and the environment.”
A spokeswoman for Lidl said 20 per cent of its banana sales were Fairtrade-certified and it was one of the largest retailers of Fairtrade bananas in the State.
Mr Smith encourages all retailers to commit to stocking only Fairtrade bananas. Consumer spending on Fairtrade products in Ireland increased by 12 per cent between 2013 and 2014 and is now worth €221 million.
The sale of Fairtrade bananas accounts for 5 per cent of our total spending on Fairtrade products in Ireland, compared to 60 per cent for coffee and 26 per cent for chocolate.
Fairtrade Ireland's director Peter Gaynor said many coffee shops now sold 100 per cent Fairtrade coffee so it was time retailers to stepped up to the mark.
“It has been well established that a small number of Irish retailers wield huge power in the Irish market. The opportunity exists for them to use that power to exert a positive influence and make a real difference,” he said.
“Converting to 100 per cent Fairtrade bananas, similar to Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-op in the UK, would have a tangible impact on many small farmers and workers in banana producing countries.”
Stephen Best, a banana farmer from the Windward Islands in the West Indies, is in Ireland to promote Fairtrade Fortnight which began on Monday. He said he would like Irish people to visualise the face of a farmer every time they buy a banana.
“This is the face of a small farmer, a person who takes pride in his or her work, to generate the necessary income to sustain their livelihood, and that of their families and workers,” he said. “When you buy a Fairtrade banana, you are giving us this opportunity. Since converting to Fairtrade, we have experienced increased earnings, better worker representation and significant health benefits.”
Fairtrade Fortnight runs until Sunday March 8th and will include educational talks, tasting workshops, coffee labs and film screenings.