UK supermarkets blamed

Documentary exposes exploitation of banana workers in Cameroon

Scottish film-maker Jan Nimmo has shot footage of banana workers in Cameroon. The documentary reveals pickers are paid just £2.25 each day.

The Glasgow artist says her short film, Portraits From Cameroon, exposes the human cost of cheap bananas grown in Africa for the European market.

Jan Nimmo has shot footage in the plantations in Africa and says the workers are being used by UK stores in a banana price war.

One of the most shocking moments she witnessed while filming in Cameroon was heavily pregnant women being exposed to chemicals while they worked.

She said: “The women were unfolding blue bags which are used to protect bananas from pests. The bags are coated with a chemical called chlorpyrifos which can cause numbness, weight loss, birth defects, loss of libido, respiratory problems and suicidal thoughts.”



Jan spent a week in the country’s Fako region filming on plantations where workers are paid poverty wages to grow cheap produce for British supermarkets.

During her trip, she gained access to plantations run by the Cameroon Development Corporation, where she documented testimonies from people who spoke about the dangerous working conditions they suffer.

Plantation conditions are harsh, with people toiling 10 to 12 hours in unbearable heat up to six days a week.

Jan said: “The most pressing issue is a lack of stewardship of the agrochemicals they use and a lack of understanding of what they can do to people exposed to them."

Jan’s trip was in collaboration with Banana Link – an organisation who campaign for a sustainable banana trade – and the Make Fruit Fair campaign, who aim to improve workers’ rights in Africa and elsewhere.

Both groups work in partnership with the Fako Agricultural Workers Union who organise workers in the South-West Province of Cameroon.

The banana sector is the fifth-largest export earner in Cameroon, employing 46,000 staff, most of whom work for the CDC, which is the largest private employer in the country.

The huge fruit multinational Del Monte buy and market CDC bananas which are exported to the UK.

Jacqui Mackay, of Banana Link, said: “Research shows workers earn about one third of what they need to live on.

“Cameroon is an extreme example and wages there are as low as anywhere in the world. People are paid so poorly, they are taking their kids out of school because they cannot afford the fees.

“Conditions will never be good until supermarkets pay more for bananas.”

Banana Link say British stores have engaged in price wars, matching each other’s cuts to such a low level that it is now impossible for many plantation workers to earn a living wage.

Jan Snell from the Fairtrade Foundation, said she is not surprised by these videos, "these practices are shocking and widespread." There are no Fairtrade bananas from Cameroon, but she said she would welcome it. As for the 'banana wars' in supermarkets she said they do not increase the amount of bananas bought and are just used as loss leaders to get customers in the stores.

Jan said that it is hard to believe that bananas have not risen in price over the years, as is the case with other foods. The price of bananas has in fact decreased in the UK from 10 years ago. She goes on to say that British consumer would most likely continue to buy bananas regardless of an increase in price as is it has become such an important item in the weekly shopping basket.

Only 36% of bananas sold in the UK are Fairtrade. Sainsburys, Waitrose and the COOP are the only chains who sell exclusively Fairtrade bananas.

In response to the videos a Tesco spokesperson said: “Although we do not use this supplier on a regular basis and have only sourced small amounts of produce for stores in central and eastern Europe, we are concerned by the allegations raised and our own ethical experts are visiting the site this week to investigate these issues and ensure they are addressed. We insist on the highest standards throughout our supply chain and have robust checks in place which are carried out by independent agricultural experts.”

ASDA commented, "We take this footage extremely seriously and are investigating Del Monte's agricultural practices in the plantations they co-manage in Cameroon."

Meanwhile, Dionysios Christou Vice President Marketing at Del Monte N.A. says these are, "false sensational claims that Del Monte is somehow responsible for the conditions in the CDC farm that appears in the video released by Jan Nimmo."

"The video in question was shot in the Banana Expansion Project farm of CDC and not the TICO Banana Project farm from where the Del Monte bananas are exclusively supplied. Our Company’s role in the TICO project is only that of a technical advisor. To that effect we issue Standard Operating Procedures to CDC for the activities involved in the operation of the TICO project. Please note that the project has been Globalgap certified for 9 years."

He goes on to say that the labels on the bananas and the boxes shown are not Del Monte and the person interviewed wearing clothing with a Del Mote logo is not a Del Monte employee. He also refutes the claims about the use of chemicals saying, "All the chemicals used on the farm are authorized by the government of Cameroon. Workers involved in these operations are provided with protective equipment. The company has recently been audited by Global gap."

Christou also denies claims of inadequate toilet facilities and drinking water and states that employees of the TICO project earn twice the legal minimum wage in Cameroon.

To see Jan’s film, log on to www.jannimmo.com/Cameroon.html


 

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