Bananas sold by Dole in New Zealand carry a sticker that says “Ethical Choice”. A research report undertaken by Philippines research organisations and released by Oxfam New Zealand today, suggests that the treatment of workers on Dole’s Philippine banana plantations is anything but ethical. These are the plantations that supply bananas for the New Zealand market.
The report, The Labour and Environmental Situation in Philippine Banana Plantations Exporting to New Zealand, documents children 15 years old and under working eight to 12 hours a day, harassment of workers for joining a union, aerial pesticide spraying while workers are on the plantations, and environmental damage.
These are disturbing findings. Oxfam New Zealand has asked Dole to take urgent action to address these issues.
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"New Zealand consumers deserve better than company greenwashing. We are calling on Dole to drop the 'Ethical Choice' label."
Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, said, “It’s time for Dole to stop making unsupported claims that they are selling ethically produced bananas. This research report shows the opposite – Philippine workers growing Dole bananas are subject to unfair and unhealthy treatment.
“New Zealand consumers deserve better than company greenwashing. We are calling on Dole to drop the ‘Ethical Choice’ label,” he said.
In August 2012 the New Zealand Commerce Commission warned Dole New Zealand that its self-created “Ethical Choice” labels may breach the Fair Trading Act. The competition watchdog said the “Ethical Choice” stickers displayed on Dole's fruit, website and marketing materials may mislead consumers into believing that the company had gained independent third-party verification, and that it was more ethical than its competitors.
Trademarking "Ethical Choice"
But rather than withdraw the label, Dole has taken the next step towards preventing any challenge to its ethics. It has applied to trademark its expression of ethical choice through the Patent Office. Once it has a trade mark, Dole will be able to defend itself against evidence of misleading labelling by saying they own the expression of Ethical Choice. This is not fair or ethical. Oxfam is calling on Dole to drop the trademark application.
“Companies must be able to justify what they say about their products. Misleading claims may be good for company profits, but they are confusing for consumers. There is no quicker way to lose consumer trust,“ said Coates.
Consumers have a powerful choice and voice. When New Zealand shoppers reach for bananas to put in the trolley, they can now choose Fairtrade certified bananas. These are independently verified, so people can be confident they are benefiting farmers and workers, rather than exploiting them.
“This is a critical challenge, not just for companies like Dole, but for the supermarkets that sell their products as well. When customers walk into a store, they deserve the confidence that the products on sale there aren’t harming people on the other side of the world,” said Coates.
Dole has agreed to meet with Oxfam representatives in New Zealand and the Philippines to discuss the issues highlighted in the report.
“We’re please to be engaging positively with Dole about these research findings. It’s vital that workers and the environment are treated with respect both here in New Zealand and globally, and we look forward to improvements in the future.
“However, in the present, Dole should stop using the ‘Ethical Choice’ label and shoppers should keep an eye out for credible independent verification, rather than company claims,” said Coates.