Alternative trade in bananas: Obstacles and opportunities for progressive social change in the global economy

Douglas Murray and Laura T. Raynolds
Publication Date: 
Fair trade bananas are the latest in an increasing array of commodities that are being promoted by various organizations in an effort to create alternative production and consumption patterns to the environmentally destructive and socially inequitable patterns inherent in traditional production and trade systems. Fair trade is touted as a strategy to achieve more sustainable development through linking environmentally and socially conscious consumers in the North with producers pursuing environmentally sound and socially just production practices in the South.
Promotion of fair trade bananas in Europe has achieved impressive initial gains on the consumer end of the commodity chain, capturing 10 percent or more of the banana trade in several countries. Yet in spite of these gains, the fair trade banana initiative appears to be encountering serious obstacles to its further success. We argue that the primary challenge in creating a truly alternative trade in bananas stems from the difficulties of upholding rigorous social and environmental standards in the face of increasing inroads into fair trade markets by transnational corporations producing under less rigorous conditions. We then develop a series of options for strengthening fair trade banana initiatives in both Europe and North America. We conclude by arguing that the case of bananas illuminates the general question of how to achieve more progressive and sustainable production and consumption systems within a global system that drives production and consumption toward greater integration and homogenization under the control of transnational corporations.