Curved figures. Bright yellow skin.
Bananas are fruits often portrayed as easily affordable and accessible. As being one of the most commonly eaten fruits around the world, the consumption rates of bananas are tremendous. Yet, what many consumers aren’t aware of, are the effects behind the consumers’ consumption onto the banana cultivating nations of the Central American region. These seemingly innocent agricultural commodities have a dark history; it is mainly produced by five transnational companies – Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Fyffes, and Noboa – who account for about “eighty percent of the more than 160 billion pounds of bananas sold each year” (Lazarus, 2014). These large-scale fruit corporations are symbols of empowering dominance: preponderating nearly all aspects of production and harassing plantation laborers under inequitable circumstances.
In doing so, the direct production of bananas in the Central American region and its neighboring countries enforces a country to find new means of financial stability when banana companies decide to leave the host country, and when it fails to do so, the societies of the host country would eventually deteriorate due to the lack of growth in progress and prosperity. Working Conditions and Inequalities Banana plantation laborers are disadvantaged in many aspects from the denial of their labor codes and worker rights to their deficient standard of living (Frundt, 2009). According to an investigation behind Dole’s banana plantations supported by the European Union, working conditions in the banana plantations are extremely difficult due to the “anti-union policies implemented by Dole and its subcontractors” (The Dole Campaign, 2006). To illustrate, in the northern banana zone of the Urabá region in Colombia, conditions on the plantations were widely acknowledged to be horrendous as “the workday lasted up to 18 or 20 hours” and “workers lived in camps with no water or electricity” (Chomsky, 2007).
As the plantation workers are provided with an inadequate amount of protective clothing, the recurrent exposures to pesticides and aerial spraying in the workplace are detrimental (The Dole Campaign, 2006). In the Carrnadi Plantations of Costa Rica, the workers who are assigned to bag fruits and apply pesticides “regularly suffer from migraine, nausea, and stiff legs” due to their unforgiving and harsh working environment (The Dole Campaign, 2006). Furthermore, as bananas are produced in tropical climates, laborers are susceptible to contracting malaria and getting bitten by the barba amarilla, which could result in “temporary blindness, bleeding, paralysis, and, if untreated, death” (Soluri, 2009). Francisco Escobar, a contributor to The University of Kansas Central American Theses and Dissertations Collection, claims that there are a wide range of systematic problems to labor transaction in the banana plantations (Escobar, 1970). In his paper, Escobar enumerates a few of the many problems derived from labor transactions: the “incapability of the worker to confront complex administrative situations” and the “helplessness of the worker because he cannot complain when he is not paid for his work as he fears the possible reprisal from his boss” (Escobar, 1970).
Despite the inequalities that Central American laborers face in their workplace, these minority groups are unable to contend for their basic rights nor even simply revamp their current circumstances, because they are suppressed through both indirect and direct abusement. Poverty From the abiding dependence on these transnational corporations, the banana-producing nations encounter a hindering obstacle of poverty and exclusion. The critical role played by the by the transnational fruit corporations in the agrarian sector of Central America is significant (Skolmen, 2008); the interference of corporations in the society of these countries are the “primary cause to the impoverishment of the rural majority and a fundamental obstacle to the development of their societies” (Brockett, 1990). Nonetheless, the most fundamental problem with the globalized banana trade is the human cost of cheap bananas – workers are “paid lower wages” (Frundt, 2009). Iris Munguia, a representative of COLSIBA, the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Argo-industrial Union, states that “Around forty percent of the profits on bananas are kept by the retailers, whilst workers receive only 0.7 to one percent.
This barely meets the cost of subsistence. It is certainly not a living wage, nor decent work, as defined by the International Labour Organization” (Munguia, ________). Despite these social injustices, American fruit companies continue to employ cheap labor of banana production as the decrease in labor pay, brings forth an increase in the profit that the corporations receive from their consumers. In fact, according to a volume of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff Country Report, in comparison to 2005, in 2009, Nicaragua has achieved “extreme poverty rates approximately five times higher in the rural area than the urban area and general poverty rates approximately doubled in the rural area than those of the urban area” (International Monetary Fund, 2011).
This indicates the intensity of the poverty scale and the challenge of reducing these scales especially in the rural area, where banana plantations are predominantly located in. In this perspective, only governments and the fruit corporations benefit from the banana production in actuality. Based on this proposition, due to the workers’ minimum wages, the poverty rates of the plantation workers are up to an extreme – implying an unpromising future for the laborers of the Central American region. Harassment Controversial issues of the banana monopoly are mainly derived from significant numbers of widespread human rights violations and abuses in plantations. According to Ana Patricia Rodriguez, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and U.
S. Latina/o Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, the scale of these social injustices has been accumulating ever since (Rodríguez, 2009). This makes it explicitly conspicuous that plantation laborers are unwillingly manipulated to face structural inequalities in order for major banana producers and distributors to reap massive benefits and profits. Child Labor The New York Times claims that “the existence of child labor on plantations is a product of simple arithmetic” as in order for businesses to be efficient and profitable, producers reach out to the “world’s most vulnerable population” (Forero, 2002).
Multinational corporations are “known to violate international child-labor laws by employing children as young as eight years old” and even “funding terrorist organizations to change the political climate in their favor” (Skolmen, 2008). Ecuador, a neighboring country of the Central American region, has been a target of abusing children as a route to cheap labor. Kristiane Skolmen, who holds a baccalaureate in Laws, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington, “child laborers on these Ecuadorian plantations typically work 12-hour days, which prevent them from receiving formal education” and are “minimally paid when required to perform strenuous tasks that uses tools like machetes or iron pulleys” that causes fatal accidents (Skolmen, 2008).Recently, in the New York Times, the demanding realities and heavy consequences that children encounter in labor has been showcased by experiences of a 10-years old boy named Esteban Menéndez in a Ecuadorian plantation established by Noboa. The young Menéndez has “bounded up 15-foot banana plants” and “tied insecticide-laced cords between them to stabilize trunks” alongside his father in order to support the financial status of his family for two years. (Forero, 2002). This implies the corporations’ deceitful attempts on purposefully targeting and appointing children from families who are financially unstable as laborers for their banana production.
The long-lasting effects that the banana production casts on the young laborers are inimical; children are not only unable to reach their fullest potential to their lack of proper education from extensive work hours, but also aggravate their health from the frequent exposures to demanding labor. ConclusionThe authoritative pressure from multinational companies in Central America affects hundreds of thousands of workers in the banana industry through exploitation in the societies of these workers. In order to prevent poverty, lack of progress, and exclusion from the appalling dominance of American corporations, a possible difference could be made through the implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the banana plantations of the Central American region.