We are the second largest importer of banana’s in the world. In the developed world no other nation spends as much per capita on banana’s as New Zealanders do. But behind the sale of 72,000 tons of banana’s each year, there is a dreadful story.
The banana’s in question are from the Philippines, a country where corruption is endemic and human rights abuses rampant. Multiple multinational companies operate plantations there as well as packaging and exporting operations to countries around the world, including New Zealand. Dole (United States), Sumifru (Japan)are just a couple.
I eat probably 2-3 banana’s a week. Most of the ones I eat come from Ecuador, a nation whose human rights laws when it comes to labour are probably no better than the Philippines. The banana’s are generally ripe and ready to be eaten on the spot. Other banana brands tend to be go on the shelves when they are several days away from being ripe and are usually deteriorating in quality by the time they are edible.
Article 23 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Philippines is a signatory to, states thus:
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
The Philippines is also a signatory to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 8, which the Philippines has not made any official reservation against (unlike New Zealand which has reserved the right not to apply), recognizes the rights of citizens to form and join unions. However it is made clear in detail that there are intimidatory acts being carried out against people who try to do just that and that the Philippines has a poor record of protecting labour unionists from attack.
Other articles in the Covenant also appear to be getting violated by various parties in this matter. The workers interviewed complained about the chemical sprays being applied to the crops, and the lack of protective gear being supplied by the plantations to protect them. Effects on health include skin peeling off, blindness and infertility. This would suggest the violation of Article 12 (2/b).
New Zealand has a trade deal with the Philippines. Although trade with nations is necessary to encourage economic growth, it should not come at the expense of the social well being of workers in the nations party to trade agreements. New Zealand and the Philippines are by no means exempt from this obligation.