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Archive for October, 2009

A broad coalition of groups around the country (Pesticide Action Network, National Family Farm Coalition, Food & Water Watch, Farmworker’s Association of Florida, Institute of Agriculture & Trade Policy, Food Democracy Now!, Greenpeace, Center for Food Safety) have mobilized to block the appointment of Islam Siddiqui to the critical post of U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator.  

Equal Exchange is encouraging our friends and allies to read the following statement and petition and sign on.  We share in the belief that President Obama should be held to his promise to put people’s interests ahead of the special interests of big agriculture.

Dear Colleagues:
Despite campaign promises to the contrary, President Obama has nominated to two key posts “Big Ag” industry insiders who come straight from the chemical pesticide and ag biotechnology sectors. 

  • Islam Siddiqui — current VP of science and regulatory affairs at CropLife (THE lobbying association for the pesticide/GMO industry). A former registered lobbyist, Siddiqui has been nominated to the critical post of U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator. This position will enable him to keep pushing chemical pesticides, inappropriate biotechnologies, and unfair trade arrangements on nations that do not want and can least afford them.
  • Roger Beachy — long-time head of Monsanto’s defacto nonprofit research arm — has been installed as director of the USDA’s newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This office comes with a $500 million budget, and therein control over the U.S. ag research agenda for years to come.

Please join us in signing this petition, urging President Obama to withdraw his Big Ag industry insiders nominations to vital agriculture posts. 

We need 50,000 signatures to make an impact and we have until Nov. 4th (when the Senate Finance Committee will vote) to make a difference.

Click here  to sign the petition

Dear President Obama,

We urge you to withdraw the nomination of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agriculture Negotiator and to reconsider your support of Roger Beachy as director of the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Siddiqui is CropLife’s current vice president of science and regulatory affairs, and until last month, Beachy was the head of Monsanto’s de facto nonprofit research arm. As two textbook cases of the “revolving door” between industry and the agencies meant to keep watch, Siddiqui and Beachy’s industry ties demonstrate that both men are too beholden to corporate agriculture to serve the public interest.

Appointing Siddiqui to this critical post within the U.S. Trade Representative’s office sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. plans to continue down the worn and failed path of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture by pushing pesticides, inappropriate biotechnologies and unfair trade arrangements on nations that do not want and can least afford them. Siddiqui’s professional record is revealing on several points: 

     •Siddiqui was a paid lobbyist for 3 years for Croplife America, which represents the chemical pesticide industry. Members include Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta.
     •CropLife America’s regional partner notoriously “shuddered” at Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden, and launched a letter-writing campaign urging the First Lady to use chemical pesticides.
     •CropLife America has consistently lobbied the U.S government to weaken and thwart international treaties governing the use and export of toxic chemicals such as PCBs, DDT and dioxins.
     •Siddiqui’s past service at the USDA included overseeing the initial development of national organic food standards that would have allowed GMOs and toxic sludge to be labeled “organic”— until over 230,000 consumers forced their revision.
 
As the global food crisis deepens and we head into the Doha round of trade talks at the WTO, the U.S. needs a lead negotiator who understands that current trade agreements work neither for farmers nor for the world’s hungry. All eyes are on the U.S. to demonstrate international leadership in this arena by withdrawing support for the current industrial model of agriculture, which imperils both people and the planet by undermining food security and worsening climate change.
 
In his capacity as director of NIFA, Roger Beachy will be in charge of the nation’s agricultural research agenda and purse strings for the next six years. Given Beachy’s previous career running the Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit closely linked to and funded by Monsanto, we believe that billions more in government funding will be funneled into genetic engineering and chemical pesticide research. Meanwhile the real solutions to our growing agricultural problems, provided by sustainable and organic agriculture research, will suffer from a lack of federal funding and attention.

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, agricultural biotechnology—of the kind aggressively promoted and marketed by CropLife—has failed to deliver its promises of higher yields for U.S. farmers, or drought-resistance for developing country farmers. What Monsanto’s research agenda has yielded is skyrocketing herbicide use, resistant “super-weeds”, rising debt for farmers, polluted waterways, threats to the health of farmworkers and rural communities, and unparalleled corporate consolidation in the agrochemical and seed industries. The top 10 agribusinesses control 89% of the agrochemicals market, 66% of the modern biotech market and 67% of the global seed market.

With farmers here and abroad struggling to respond to water scarcity and increasingly volatile growing conditions, we need a resilient and restorative model of agriculture that adapts to and mitigates these effects of climate change. In the most comprehensive analysis of global agriculture to date, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) states unequivocally that “business as usual is not an option.” We need a new, sustainable model of agriculture that regenerates soil health, sequesters carbon, feeds communities, and puts profits back in the hands of farmers and rural communities. Industrial agriculture—and Roger Beachy, Islam Siddiqui and CropLife in particular—favor none of these solutions.

While we appreciate your Administration’s recent gestures in support of local food systems, we fear these initiatives will not fulfill their potential unless the monopolistic power and political influence of the agricultural input industry is addressed and curtailed. We therefore respectfully ask you to withdraw your appointments of Siddiqui and Beachy, and replace them with candidates who have a sustainable vision for U.S. agriculture and trade.
 
As parents, farmers, advocates, scientists and people who eat food, we remember your promise on the campaign trail: “We’ll tell ConAgra that it’s not the Department of Agribusiness. It’s the Department of Agriculture. We’re going to put the people’s interests ahead of the special interests.” We, the undersigned, are writing to hold you to that promise.

 
Click here to sign the petition.

 

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Sarah Belfort, Domestic Fair Trade Coordinator, Danielle Lafond, Quality Control, Hope Kolly & Jamie Gallagher, Interfaith Department, learning about different cranberry varieties

It’s a cold, blustery day here in southeastern Massachuetts and the  five-vehicle caravan which is heading down Route 28  towards Buzzard’s Bay is packed with Equal Exchange staff bundled up in our hoodies, head scarves, boots and rain gear.  It’s a field trip and we’re visiting some of our newest farmer partners… but this time no passports, visas, or airline tickets are needed.  We’re visiting Monika and Keith Mann, the farmers who grow our organic dried cranberries, one of the healthy snack products in our Domestic Fair Trade program; and their farm is right here less than 40 miles south of our facilities.

Many in the group have never visited a cranberry bog before and today seems like the perfect time to do so.  Well, maybe not so perfect for Monika and Keith who are smack in the middle of the harvest – but an ideal moment for us to see the bogs full of ripe berries, hopefully get our feet wet learning how to pick (there’s a dry and wet picking depending on whether the cranberries will eventually be sold as “fresh” or “processed”), and then observing how the farmworkers sort and pack the berries.

Equal Exchange launched our Domestic Fair Trade program in 2007 to support small farmers in the U.S. who face many of the same challenges as the farmers we work with internationally:  market access, credit, economies of scale, technical support, and government policies and subsidies that favor agri-business.  It’s slow going, but we’re very proud of the work we’ve done to support small scale almond, pecan, and cranberry growers in the U.S. and to help inform and educate consumers about the challenges and importance of small scale farming throughout the world.

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Monika Mann showing us cranberries from one of her renovated organic cranberry bogs.

Monika brought us on a tour of some of their organic bogs.  We saw a “baby bog” that was just renovated and replanted this year, and then several that were “adolescent” and finally, the “adult” bogs; the entire renovation process takes five long years of constant maintenance and upkeep.  They must be hand weeded until the cranberry vines are solidly vined in.  The two-year old bog you see on the left was in the process of being hand weeded while we were there.  Monika says it takes 10 days for a team of five or six folks to weed a bog this size.  The bogs also have to be flooded, iced, and sanded and according to Monika, this is an extremely labor and resource-intensive process.  It’s not uncommon for them to have to get out of bed in the middle of the night and make the rounds of the bogs to control the water temperature during the cold months.  “It’s really easy to kill a bog by not putting down the ice properly,” Monika tells us.  It costs approximately $20,000/acre to renovate a cranberry bog.

Monika is extremely knowledgeable – and deeply passionate – about organic farming and she was incredibly patient and good natured answering all of our questions about production from farm maintenance to species variation.  We even ate a few cranberries in each bog to see if we could detect subtle variations in taste…  by the way, how many of you have ever broken open a cranberry to view its inside?  Pretty beautiful, eh?  Kind of looks like a pomegranate….  

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Next, we trooped inside the screening house, built in the 1940’s which has only been back in use these last dozen or so years, since they’ve begun doing organic production.  There, we saw the many steps involved in cleaning, sorting and packaging the berries.  We’ll post a video soon so you can all watch the different pieces of machinery; it was really wild.  Meantime, here’s a before and after photo of the berries (kind of funny how closely they resemble coffee when it’s in the cherry about to be depulped):

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We took a break for lunch and while we waited for our meals, Sarah invited us to do a “blind tasting” of the cranberries. She put out two cranberry sauces that she had made the night before; one was made from organic cranberries from one of the bogs we had just toured and the other was from conventional cranberries. She also put out a plate of dried cranberries; one was our very own product and the other was from a competitor. She asked us to jot down the characteristics of each, our preferences, and to try to guess the origin of the samples. I won’t tell you how many of us correctly identified the organic from the conventional and ours (from the Mann farmers) from the competition, but I will tell you how impressed I was with Danielle, who not only guessed both samples correctly, but did so without a flicker of hesitation, defending her opinions with the certainty of a professional… Right on Quality Department!

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Jodi Anderson preparing her plate for a "cranberry tasting."

Finally, we headed over to Wareham where Monika’s husband Keith was doing the very last “dry picking” of the season.  There was a lot of confusion about dry and wet picking but by the end of the afternoon, I think we finally had it right.  The berries that are dry-picked end up as wet berries (sold “fresh”) and the berries that are wet-picked end up as dried berries (sold “processed”, for example, dried, juice, sauce, etc.)

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Keith Mann

Keith’s passion matched what we had already seen in spending the the morning with Monika.  His knowledge comes from years of doing this work.  In fact,  Keith’s family have been cranberry farmers for generations; three on his father’s side and four on his mother’s!  He told us a very moving story about how when he was five years old, his father asked him if he wanted to be a cranberry farmer.  “Because if you do,” his father told him, “this farm is yours.  And if you don’t, that’s the end of the farm.”  He said his father probably didn’t even remember the conversation, but it had a tremendous impact on him and he has felt that responsibility his whole life.  He then went on to tell us how difficult it had been when the price of cranberries had crashed and how he couldn’t “make a salary”, nor could he get another job.  Today, however, prices have improved and while the round-the-clock work continues, Keith seemed full of pride and still deeply engaged discovering new farming techniques, sustainable practices, and processing innovations.

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By the end of the day, the rains were coming down hard and we weren’t able to try our hand at cranberry picking.  We’ll have to visit again, perhaps during next year’s harvest.  We thanked Keith for spending so much time with us, especially during this incredibly busy time of year.  Monika had already taken her leave.  She’s home schooling her 13-year old daughter and had to get back to the house.  Before she left, she thanked us as well.  “We’ve always been inspired by Equal Exchange,” she said, “you have integrity and a clear passion for the work you do.  And if you can do for small, local farmers here in the U.S. what you’ve been doing for farmers internationally, that would be really be impressive.”

We’re trying our best.  And with farmer partners like the Manns and all the other relationships we’ve built through these years, farmers and consumers alike, it’s hard not to find the inspiration to try even harder.

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The following post, written by Rob Everts, Equal Exchange Co-Director, was first written for Coins and the Commonwealth in May of 2008… although his words still hold true today.  Perhaps, more true, in light of all that has happened to our economy during this past year…

 

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Two decades ago we started engaging Americans in how their food overseas was sourced and committed to building an alternative vision of international trade from the prevailing “race to the bottom.” This early attempt to give meaning to “fair trade” pre-dated even the entrance of “free trade” into the public dialog. Similarly, our capital model represented the idea of “slow money” before its time had come. In the same way we commit to long-term trade relationships with farmer co-operatives, we have sought long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our investors.

 
When the current Equal Exchange capital structure was created, we knew that our model would not attract everyone, not even all who considered themselves socially responsible investors. For starters, there would never be a blockbuster return. Shares would not increase in value. Shareholders would not have a formal vote in the affairs of the business. Rather, they would share a seat at the table with other valued stakeholders to build an alternative to capitalism-as-usual. Farmers, consumers, Equal Exchange worker-owners, food co-ops, independent café and natural food stores, faith communities, investors… all of these constituencies joined together to play a critical role in enabling Equal Exchange to survive and ultimately thrive after its first decade.

 
And now, emboldened and yes, awed, by our 20 year vision adopted by the worker owners…

a vibrant, mutually co-operative community
of 2 million committed participants
trading fairly $1 billion dollars a year
in a way that transforms the world.

we move into the next chapter of the Equal Exchange experience. We are in uncharted territory. What we know for sure is we will continue to take risks and to more directly challenge the industrial food system over its central role in keeping millions impoverished around the world. We will also engage in political action where we believe trade or other policies negatively impact our farmer partners or perpetuate corporate control of agriculture.

 
One thing for sure is that we will need to collaborate with many other like-minded people and organizations to accomplish any of this. Looking forward to vigorous debate—and action—in the months and years to come.

 

Note: Equal Exchange is currently looking for an Investment Coordinator. If you are interested in learning more about this exciting position, please visit our website and download the full job description.

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The following article, written by Scott Patterson, Director of Equal Exchange’s Minnesota Regional Office, first appeared in many of our food co-operative partner’s October newsletters.

If you work for a food co-operative, are a member or shopper of one, or quite simply are just plain interested in what a co-operative economy means, I think you’ll be inspired by some of the ideas Scott discusses below. Let us know what you think!
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A co-owner of mine recently shared an interesting interaction. A woman came up to her at a co-op event that we were sponsoring and said that she had been a passionate Equal Exchange supporter in our early days, but assumed that after nearly 25 years we had sold out to grow or survive.

 

Given the current climate of corporate bailouts and the long list of disappointments from Green & Black’s, Tom’s, Burt’s, Kashi, Dagoba, Honest Tea and more, it’s easy to arrive at that conclusion. When we shared that Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-operative and that, like at her food co-op, the values of transparency and democracy are the rules by which we govern – and, aren’t just pretty words – the landscape shifted.

 

There is some grey area here; it is, of course, possible for co-ops to be broken, sold or poorly managed. But when done well, the one member, one vote and profit sharing backbone of co-ops protects against greed and promotes ethical entrepreneurialism better than any business model I have seen to date. In the case of Equal Exchange, imagine 91 people who have a genuine financial stake in seeing their work succeed. Our recent jump into bananas exemplifies this spirit.

 

Last December, the worker-owners at Equal Exchange voted to take on a daunting challenge. The banana industry is totally dominated by Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte. Who in their right mind would try this? But remember we aren’t just talking about one company. The origins and success of Fair Trade coffee can almost exclusively be traced to a powerful chain of cooperators. Picture it: small farmers Û Equal Exchange Û natural foods co-ops around the country Û you.

 

Together, both with international and local farmers, our collective work is one of creating food chains that stand for our values. The beauty of co-ops and these supply chains is that they are transparent; you can get to know something real about the 80 farmers who are growing your bananas. And with shared ownership and decision making, when you as a shopper support cooperatively owned companies on the shelves of your store, you are sharing your power and creating authentic change.

 

Traditionally, October’s co-op month has been about celebration and we have many successes to enjoy. At the same time, we have a lot of work ahead. While we’ve seen copycats repackage our work and call it things like “direct trade,” we do need to reinvigorate and step up our game when Frito Lay and Wal-Mart tout their “relationships” with farmers. No wonder most shoppers are skeptical. And the risk is that when we can no longer distinguish between real efforts and marketing, we lose our ability to create true change.

 

So, how do we move forward together? Well, for Equal Exchange’s part, in addition to jumping into the banana industry, we are committing to doing a better job of sharing both why small-scale farmer organizations are valuable and to letting you all get to know us. I suggest that natural foods co-ops embrace the debate about who owns the companies on your shelves share this with your member-owners and do even more to actively promote cooperatively owned companies.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I know some of you are here already and we feel extremely well represented. But in addition to local, organic and Fair Trade labeling, let’s identify and be proud of our business models. On the part of shoppers, hang in there! I know you are stretched for time and money but if you’ve read this far you must see value in building these connections! I ask for your amazing, continued loyalty to your co-op and to Equal Exchange, and that you join us in holding our collective feet to the fire. Remember, your grocery store has been an innovator and is able to carry the products you want because it is a co-op! Why not look for more of the same in all the companies your dollars support – and in this way remove the incentive for companies to sell out.

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Interested in learning more about the producers who grow your coffee, the co-operative businesses they have created to successfully compete in the global marketplace, and the impact this work has had on their communities?

Don’t take our word!

 

You can visit some of these co-ops yourselves. Stay in the homes of the farmers. Meet their families. Learn to make tamales and tortillas. Pick coffee. Try your hand at depulping the freshly picked beans. Visit the dry mills where the coffee is processed. Hike in the forested mountains where monkeys and opossums still hang out in the trees. Visit the schools, health clinics and other community projects that Fair Trade premiums have helped support.

A number of our co-operative partners have developed eco-tourism projects so that students, Fair Trade Advocates, coffee zealots, and the cross-culturally minded can visit, stay in farming communities, and learn for themselves what the buzz is all about. As someone who brings many groups to visit the producer co-ops and meet the farmers, I can tell you there’s nothing more interesting, more fun… and more life changing than the relationships that get formed when consumers take the time to meet those who produce their food – be it coffee, tea, chocolate or domestic products. You can read about Fair Trade, sustainable agriculture, and rural development all you want –but nothing takes the place of real human interactions. These eco-tourism projects offer a unique (and unfortunately, rare) opportunity to connect deeper to those whose hard work impacts our own lives so fully.

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Equal Exchange has been bringing visitors to one of these highly organized farmer co-ops, CECOCAFEN in Nicaragua, for over ten years. These annual delegation visits, together with our strong relationships with both CECOCAFEN and with our Interfaith partner, Lutheran World Relief, provided some of the early thinking and financial support that eventually led the co-op to develop an integrated eco-tourism project. An exciting aspect of this program is that it developed with full participation of the community: the men, women and youth were involved in its design and implementation.

For more information about this exciting project, as well as information about how to visit, you can go directly to their web-site:

Because, as they say on their website, “Fair Trade is more than just a higher price.”

 

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The road heading south between Guayaquil and Machala, on the coast of Ecuador, is lined with banana plantations. Endless rows of green banana plants stretch as far as the eye can see. It is to learn more about this fruit and the farmers who grow it, that drew my colleague, Bradley Russell, and I to Ecuador this past summer.

Picture1Economic activity in this tropical region revolves almost exclusively around banana production and export. In fact, Ecuador is one of the world’s largest banana exporting countries. Approximately 40% of bananas consumed throughout the world are produced here, leaving the country through the docks at Machala’s Puerto Bolivar. For this reason, Machala is often referred to as the banana capital of the world.

Ecuador joined the ranks of other Latin American countries known as “Banana Republics” after World War II, and similar to the rest of the world, the banana industry in Ecuador has been controlled by five major corporations: Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Bonita and Fyffes. Unfortunately, the history of these five multi-national corporations has been no less nefarious in this region of the Americas than it has been elsewhere. (For more information on banana history, see the end of this article).

225_ElGuabo_TransportAs we head to Machala from the Guayaquil airport, the tremendous power these companies exert here in southern Ecuador is evident at every turn. Signs at the plantation entrances proudly proclaim the ownership of these companies. On the road ahead of us, we see their trucks stacked high with labeled boxes of bananas making their way from company-owned packing stations to company-owned warehouses. Moments later, 25-foot containers, emblazoned with the logos of these same industry giants, cruise past us on their way to the ports of Machala and Guayaquil.

The presence of the banana industry can be seen everywhere and it’s no secret which folks are running the show. And yet, something else is also happening here in southern Ecuador. You have to look a little harder, past all the corporate indicators and infrastructure. But if you do, you’ll see signs of something new and fresh and exciting igniting sparks both in Ecuador and abroad. And from all evidence, this new initiative in Ecuador, tied to an international movement, is gaining visibility and momentum.

Imagine this: in a region where multi-national companies own every stage of the industry from banana plantations to packing stations, warehouses, trucks, containers, and shipping lines, an association of 400 small banana farmers have decided that they’ve been controlled for long enough and have decided to join together to build their own democratically-organized export business with the dual goals of running a top-quality, sustainable Fair Trade business while improving the economic and social conditions of the members’ families and their communities.

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Against all odds, this entrepreneurial and socially-conscious organization, the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers, is gaining ground. Their achievements are creating ripples of change: in the farmers’ lives and communities; in their health and the health of the environment; and increasingly in the banana industry as a whole.

What are those signs of change that this innovative Fair Trade Organic banana program is sparking?

Here are just some hints of what we saw that indicate we’re on the edge of something big:

*In a country long dominated by corporate interests, the Minister of Agriculture pays regular visits to El Guabo farmers to discuss current economic and agriculture proposals and to solicit members’ feedback. We attended one such meeting in which the farmers asked questions, offered opinions and occasionally contradicted an “official” point of view.

*El Guabo routinely receives visits from non-governmental and producer organizations throughout Ecuador and other countries that are interested in learning about their organizational and economic model. Not only is the co-operative one of the few associations of small- and medium-sized banana farmers, but they are also successfully selling Fair Trade and organic high-quality bananas into the U.S. and European markets. They developed a successful business model as well as a highly democratic and socially-driven organization that has had considerable influence in the region and impact on the local communities.

*In an industry where low-flying planes routinely dust the banana plantations with pesticides as a matter of course, growing numbers of small- and medium-sized banana farmers are rejecting the use of pesticides and converting their farms to organic cultivation.

1685_ElGuabo_Transport* Amidst the endless monoculture of banana plantations, increasing numbers of small-scale farmers are cultivating their bananas under the principles of “agro-forestry”, interspersing bananas with cacao and citrus trees, and cultivating organically and under shade, to protect the farms’ natural eco-systems and the health of both producers and consumers. El Guabo also provides low-interest loans to farmers to carry out environmental improvements and recycling programs on their farms.

*Unlike many conventional plantations, where working conditions are abysmal and worker rights’ non-existent, the members of El Guabo (and the day laborers who work for them) receive medical insurance, social security, and other social benefits from their association.

* The availability of social services and infrastructure is often woefully absent or inadequate in rural communities throughout the world. Typically schools, medical clinics and other social institutions are under-funded and sparsely equipped. In the three regions where El Guabo is operating, the members have voted to spend 80% of the Fair Trade premium they receive ($1 per box) for the sale of their bananas on community medical clinics, teachers, and a school for autistic children. Last year, the Association designated $1.8 million for social projects to benefit the wider community.

When you think about the fact that the average American consumes 26 pounds of bananas a year and that bananas are the world’s most popular fruit, the potential for impact – on the farmers livelihoods, on our environment, our health, and our values – is tremendous. We want high quality food at an affordable price, but what if we had a choice? What if we could buy high quality, affordable fruit, and also know, down to the farmer, who grew it, how they grew it, and what impact our purchase had on a local community?

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Equal Exchange has worked for 23 years to transform the coffee, tea, and chocolate industries. We are infinitely proud to announce that YOU NOW HAVE A CHOICE in the kind of banana industry you support. Next time you purchase a banana, look to see if there’s an Equal Exchange sticker on the bunch. If there is, you are choosing to connect yourself to these courageous banana farmers who are making history for themselves, and quite possibly, for the banana industry as a whole. Align yourself with these small farmers and become part of this new banana revolution!

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More about the ugly truth of banana history
For well over a century, the banana conglomerates, specifically Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Bonita and Fyffes, have influenced every level of social, economic, and political history in Latin America. They have controlled the fate not only of the millions of workers who toil on their plantations, but have also been responsible for determining national lending, tax credit, land allotment, environment, and labor policies, even dictating the fate of the highest government officials. The most infamous case occurred in 1954, when the United Fruit Company (predecessor of Chiquita Brands) received the support of the CIA to back a military coup against Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz, because his land reform policies interfered with the company’s expansion plans.

The banana plantations operated by the giant companies have been notorious for poor working conditions and blatant labor abuses, subjecting many of the banana companies to numerous lawsuits for these and other activities. For example, several of the corporations were sued by their workers and the thousands of affected individuals for respiratory illnesses, cancer, infertility, and birth defects, a result of continued exposure to pesticides used on the banana plantations, long-banned in the United States. Dole and Chiquita have been involved in lawsuits by family members of farm workers, labor unionists and community members who were killed by paramilitary groups (on the U.S. terrorist list) in Colombia after it was revealed that the corporations had been paying these groups “protection money” for years in order to continue operating in the region. Just this year, Dole and Chiquita have again received attention for a possible role in the military coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, after he decided to raise the country’s minimum wage over their opposition. Finally, while less severe, the extent of corporation control over the entire banana supply chain has also enabled this handful of companies to dictate contracts determining supply and price, thereby extending their reach into supermarkets and homes across the globe.

While some argue that Chiquita, Dole, and the other three banana companies have certainly improved their image, if not their practices in recent years, the question remains: are these the companies that we as consumers wish to support? Until very recently, natural food stores, co-operatives, and other retail establishments have had no choice regarding which brand to carry. Farmers have had no choice regarding the company where they could sell their bananas and consumers certainly have had no choice in which bunch to bring home. Fortunately, as we discussed above, the choice now lies with the consumer. Thank you for supporting small farmers, a just food system, and for being part of the change.

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