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Dole to remove 'ethical choice' labels from bananas

Published: 5:30AM Tuesday May 28, 2013 Source: ONE News

Dole has agreed to discontinue the use of the 'ethical choice' labels placed on the company's bananas following criticism from Oxfam New Zealand.

In a report released today, Oxfam says an investigation documents children aged 15 and younger working between eight to 12 hours a day for the producer on plantations supplying bananas to New Zealand.

The report also describes instances of harassment of workers for wanting to join a union, aerial pesticide spraying while workers are on plantations and environmental damage.

Oxfam's executive director Barry Coates said Dole was making unsupported claims in the use of the ethical choice label.

In a statement released this afternoon, Dole Asia New Zealand manager Steve Barton said, while the company was confident it was not misleading consumers, it would discontinue use of the labels.

"We are confident that our use of this label does not mislead or deceive consumers.

"Notwithstanding this, we have made a business decision to discontinue the use of the ethical choice label on all future shipments in order to avoid any controversy and distraction to our business," Barton said.

Coates said Oxfam welcomed the decision, saying Dole had realised the public would not accept marketing spin and self-made claims.

"We hope that this is the start of a process that will improve conditions for people who are working hard to grow the bananas we eat."

In response to the report, Barton said the company took the allegations seriously and intended to investigate them.

"If we find any practices that are not in accordance with our policies, those will be corrected promptly."

Dole also claimed to have identified inaccuracies in the report, and said a request had been made to Oxfam to gain access to their researchers to begin an investigation.

Dole was last year warned by the Commerce Commission that stickers claiming its bananas were an ethical choice could mislead shoppers as they were not awarded by a certified third party.

What the report covers

Workers from five local areas in the Philippines provided information for the report, The Labour and Environmental Situation in Philippines Banana Plantations Exporting to New Zealand, which was conducted by the Centre for Trade Unions and Human Rights for Oxfam.

The report outlines: "In spite of the limitations of the study, it is able to show key differences in Dole-Stanfilco's labour practises that are partly compliant but largely in violations of the prevailing standards that is pledged to adhere."

The report also stated that despite Dole's presence offering employment opportunities in the Philippines, where jobs are often scant, the company did not significantly contribute to uplifting most families of workers.

"A testament to this is that no single respondent has said that their lives are better off today than prior to their employment in the banana industry," the report says.

"If there are changes, these are focused on having some or little cash that they regularly received from wages, compared to the non-regular income when they were farming.

The report said workers took jobs in banana plantations because there was no other choice.

Coates said Oxfam had seen an outpouring of public concern around the issues of confusing labels and exploitation of workers.

"This is a demonstration of how consumer power can lead to better lives for farmers in developing countries."

Coates urged New Zealand shoppers to choose Fairtrade certified bananas, which he said were independently verified so "people can be confident they are benefiting farmers and workers, rather than exploiting them".