Oxfam says PH banana workers get raw deals
The Philippines may be the source of nearly all of the bananas traded in Asia, but a recent study by a United Kingdom-based nongovernment organization showed that more than half of banana farmers and packers in the country barely have the means to feed themselves and their families.
In its recently published 120-page study, “Ripe for Change,” Oxfam found that banana farmers, especially those in Mindanao, were bound by multinational companies to “grossly unfair contracts” which forced them to live a life of poverty and hunger.
The study said banana farmers were “lured” into signing “onerous” agribusiness venture agreements with companies like the multinationals Sumifru (Philippines) Corp. and Standard Philippines Fruit Corp. by promises of signing bonuses.
It said the contracts “contained opaque legal provisions that the farmers couldn’t adequately understand.”
Among provisions in the contracts allowed buyers to fix banana prices regardless of production costs or prevailing market rates.
Farmers were also barred from planting other crops for additional income.
The contracts also did not provide farmers any mechanism for redress against abuse.
“Oxfam’s study shows that this exploitative, rent-seeking behavior kept farmers locked in a vicious cycle of debt, while banana trading companies are able to extract significant value from the production process,” the study said.
Of 147 banana farmers and packers interviewed for the study, 75 percent were classified as “food insecure,” which meant they or a family member “had gone without enough food in the previous month.”
Worried about food
Among small-scale women farmers, 72 percent said they “worried about feeding their family in the previous month.”
At least 90 percent of bananas in Asia comes from the Philippines, which exports these to Japan, China and South Korea, among other countries.
Aside from onerous contracts, the study said farmers were also exposed to “brutal working conditions” to meet quotas set by the companies.
Oxfam Philippines senior manager Dante Dalabajan said the group launched the #BehindTheBarcodes online petition which sought to prompt businesses and governments to crack down on inhumane working conditions in the banana industry.
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