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The Inside Scoop on BC’s Fairtrade Banana Movement

Bananas – the perfect grab-and-go breakfast choice, great healthy snack, and a favorite smoothie addition.  This fruit is the number one sold whole fruit at Boston College.  However, what most people don’t know is that it is also one of the world’s most exploited fruits from large corporations.  Bananas are “the fourth most important food staple in the world and the fifth most-traded agricultural commodity (after cereals, sugar, coffee and cocoa), generating billions of dollars.”  In order to keep this prized commodity cheap, large companies create horrible working conditions and excruciatingly long workdays (12-14 hours) for the underprivileged workers.  That is why students at BC have started standing up to this exploitation and demanding change in our dining halls.

Helen Wechsler, Director of Dining Services, told the audience at the recent sustainability-focused State of the Heights that the dining halls do about 23,000 transactions each day.  This means that, as a student body and BC community, we have 23,000 powerful “votes” per day for what we want to see provided to us in our dining halls.  Students have started to cash in on this power.  Currently on campus, there is a movement to support a change from non-sustainable bananas to Fairtrade certified ones on campus.  This movement is gaining speed and community support through the on-going efforts to raise awareness by dining services and student groups like Real Food and Arrupe.
Senior Megan Perez, co-leader of an Arrupe trip to Nicaragua, shared her experience with banana workers with me.  Her Arrupe group’s experience allowed them to go to Managua, Nicaragua, and meet with banana workers.  This is where the exploitation of third-world workers really hit home for her.  The Nicaraguan banana workers have been protesting large banana conglomerates for years, trying to get compensation for the horrible health problems they been contracted because of the toxic pesticides they were forced to work with on the plantations.  Megan said, “A major pesticide that was used – DBCP, dibromochloropropane – was banned from the United States and then the excess of the chemical was used on Nicaraguan plantations without warning or telling the workers the horrible side effects.”  This chemical spray causes serious health problems, such as skin deformations, sterility in men, and birth defects in children.

So what makes Fairtrade bananas better than conventional ones, you may ask.  Well, when a banana farm is certified through Fairtrade International that means that bananas have “been produced by small farmer organizations or in plantations that meet high social and environmental standards.”  Instead of only receiving a small (less than 20% of the revenue) salary for their work, Fairtrade-certified farmer organizations get a Fairtrade premium price for their bananas.  This revenue has strict regulations about what it can be used to support.  It must be used to keep salaries “equal to or higher than the regional average or than the minimum wage,” as well as keep working standards high so workers are kept safe and healthy.
Anabelle McLean, President of Real Food, has been helping to spread the message.  She explained that in order for BC to make this change, they need to see that students want it.  There is a petition currently being circulated that asks students to support this Fairtrade movement.  “We are asking students to sign a petition saying that they will support a small (10-20 cent) price increase for Fairtrade bananas,” said Anabelle.
The petition is currently by the registers in Addie’s and will soon be at tables in Mac and the Rat.  “Signing this petition is a simple thing that BC students can afford to do and it makes such a big impact on the lives of so many underprivileged and exploited people,” said Megan.
If you are interested in more information or being more involved in this movement please contact Real Food or visit their Facebook page.  And go sign the petition and do your part in making a positive change on campus!

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