Henry J. Frundt: Fair Bananas: Farmers, Workers, and Consumers Strive to Change an Industry

By Fridell, Gavin | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Henry J. Frundt: Fair Bananas: Farmers, Workers, and Consumers Strive to Change an Industry


Fridell, Gavin, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Henry J. Frundt

Fair Bananas: Farmers, Workers, and Consumers Strive to Change an Industry

Tucson: University of Arizona Press 2009, xvii + 273 pp.

In a highly engaging and important work, Henry Frundt unravels the complex layers of the global banana industry. While most of the major recent monographs on fair trade have focused on the traditional flagship commodity, coffee, increasing attention has been paid to other products, especially bananas. As Frundt points out, bananas are the world's most popular fruit, with over 10 million people involved in their growing and packaging.

Frundt explores fair trade within the context of the specific nature of the banana industry, including its special requirements for shipping and packaging (bananas spoil much easier than coffee beans) and the unique international and regional divisions between small farmers and rural workers on plantations. His work emphasizes human agency and draws on social movement theory to "examine whether a farmer-worker-consumer alliance" can develop around the fair trade banana label to promote sustainable development (11). According to Frundt, such an alliance depends on the emergence of three factors: a "structural opportunity" to bring people together; an activist "network" to connect organizations; and a "common identity" to unite the different groups.

One of the great strengths of Frundt's work is his broad definition of fair trade, which includes diverse views expressed by smallholders, workers, unions, and NGOs both within and outside of the formal fair trade network. In this sense, the title of the book is perhaps a bit misleading, as much of its content is about general labour relations in the banana industry, rather than the specific project of fair trade.

Through this broad approach, Frundt identifies some of the major cleavages within the banana industry that fair traders must address. One of the most significant is a regional divide between Latin American producers and those in the Caribbean Windward Islands (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Grenada). Whereas the majority of Latin American bananas have traditionally been produced on giant plantations with low-paid, highly exploited workers, Windward Islands bananas have generally been grown on small-scale, family-run farms under significantly better working conditions. Unable to compete with cheaper bananas from Latin America, the Windward Islands' industry has only been able to survive on the basis of a preferential trade agreement with the EU. Over the past two decades, intense protests from Latin American banana exporters and the United States have resulted in the gradual wearing down of the preferential regime. This turn of events has had devastating effects on Caribbean farmers, whose numbers have declined dramatically. In the wake of this decline, Frundt argues that the emergence of fair trade, while at times imposing too onerous a standard on small farmers, has at the same time provided relatively higher prices, an outcome that has helped the remaining Caribbean farmers to survive.

A second major cleavage that Frundt examines is that between fair trade certified small farmers (both in the Caribbean and Latin America) and workers on plantations. This division, in its most basic sense, has revolved around resistance by smallholders against the incorporation of unionized plantations into the fair trade system. While this situation changed with an agreement between TransFair USA and Dole in 2005, Frundt argues that the agreement was made without proper consultation with either unions or smallholders and merely revealed that "TransFair did not fully comprehend what union rights entailed" (46). …

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