Updated: Apr 16
By Emily De Leon
Photo courtesy of Pexels
Bananas are consumed widely in the United States and are a fruit that can be found in most American households. However, due to bananas being grown so far from the United States, most Americans are unaware of the harsh realities of the banana industry and the problem of the mass production of bananas. These problems arise in the form of worker mistreatment and unsafe farming practices. The banana industry is mainly controlled by a few major corporations such as Dole and Del Monte (BananaLink). These corporations operate a variety of banana plantations that are located in South America, and the farmworkers they represent are the focus of this environmental justice issue. In places such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, workers responsible for producing and harvesting the crop are often the most underpaid stakeholder in the supply chain. In fact, due to the global influence of supermarkets, and the extremely low purchasing price for bananas, workers' earnings are only worth between 4-9% of the total value of bananas. On the flip side, retailers are able to earn and keep around 40% of the selling price (BananaLink). These workers often have families that they are striving to provide for. The extremely low wages that these workers receive is a major injustice to them and their families. Another injustice that these workers face is the exposure to chemicals in the form of pesticides. In some Costa Rican farms, pesticides are sprayed on the banana plants to rid them of insects and pests. Ingesting or being exposed to these pesticides can cause problems such as neurological issues and other health impacts such as infertility, cancer, and kidney disease. In 2016, a study done in Costa Rica found that 49,600 pounds of insecticide are released into the natural environment (Stewart, 2020). This is a major health hazard to these workers and the surrounding communities, as they are unfairly placed in a position to be exposed to these harmful chemicals.
Beyond the constant dangerous exposure to pesticides, banana plantation workers are subjected to extremely harsh conditions. Often, the heat is very intense and unbearable, and the workers are in the fields working for around 14 hours a day (BananaLink). The harsh conditions in conjunction with the elevated health risks is more than reason enough for these workers to deserve a livable wage. With the current wage that these workers receive they do not make enough to provide the bare necessities for themselves and their families. It is important to raise awareness around this issue and promote education about the farming and supermarket system that our society is dominated by. It is important to recognize who is forgotten, and who benefits the most from the supply chain.
BananaLink. (n.d.). The problem with Bananas: Environmental, Social, and Corporate Issues. Banana Link. Retrieved January 15, 2023, from https://www.bananalink.org.uk/the-problem-with-bananas/
Stewart, M. (2020, March 30). The deadly side of america's banana obsession. Pulitzer Center. Retrieved January 15, 2023, from https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/deadly-side-americas-banana-obsession