Sainsbury’s reaches living wage goal for banana workers

12 Mar 2024

UK supermarket Sainsbury’s announces it has achieved its industry commitment three years ahead of schedule and encourages other retailers to do the same.

As of the 8 February 2024, every single banana bought at Sainsbury’s will contribute towards paying thousands of banana workers a fairer wage, Sainsbury’s announced. In turn, it will support the future of banana growers in Cameroon, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Ghana.

Sainsbury’s reaches living wage goal for banana workers
Pictured: Sainsbury's Fairtrade bananas | © Sainsbury's

Paying a living wage

In 2023, Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Lidl GB, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose committed to enabling banana workers on large banana plantations to receive a living wage by 2027. Brought together by IDH, a social enterprise focusing on sustainable trade initiatives, the nine UK retailers committed to pursuing the IDH Roadmap on Living Wages and calculating the living wage gap in their supply chains by using tools like the IDH Salary Matrix.

A living wage ensures that a worker receives sufficient pay to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and their family, including access to food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transport, and other essential needs. Closing the gap between a worker’s current wage and their living wage improves their standard of living.

As the UK retail commitment enters its second year, Sainsbury’s has taken action to address living wages now, three years ahead of its industry commitment. It is therefore the first retailer to pay the Fairtrade Living Wage Reference Price. The retailer has also modified its contracts to four-year contracts to provide its banana workers with increased stability and financial security.

A focus on bananas

The UK accounts for 4% of global banana imports, with British consumers eating over eight billion of the popular fruit yearly. Most of these bananas are sourced from Central American, South American, and West African countries, where data indicates that workers cannot always earn a living wage.

Ensuring bananas receive a living wage that is fair and equivalent to the volumes sourced throughout international banana supply chains is a mission that Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany have adopted in their retail commitments. Now, with the British coalition of retailers’ pledges underway, they hope to ensure living wages are a reality for banana workers around the globe.

“The need for a living wage has always been pressing in the banana sector because workers are among the most vulnerable people in global trade,” Alex Ducett, senior manager at Social Accountability International and Global Living Wage Coalition, told Ingredients Network. Banana workers have few options for a sustainable livelihood without access to land and are unable to make a living from it.

“Banana workers often lack formal contracts, freedom of association, basic health and safety assurances, and adequate wages, among other challenges,” Ducett added. In addition, many, such as those in the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Ecuador, are not unionised.

There is also low awareness of workers’ rights.

“Workers face strenuous work and poor living conditions. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable,” he said.

Of the 84,672 workers analysed in IDH’s UK Banana Report 2023, 58,579 (69.2%) received a living wage and 26,093 (30.8%) had a living wage gap. The average living wage gap size was 17.41%. Better Together: European Alignment for Living Wages in Bananas was a key initiative in 2023, which saw learning spaces and workshops take place to encourage joint learning, reduce duplication, and avoid unintended consequences for producers and workers. The initiative also saw training courses, data validation and consultations held.

Following the initiative, the price Sainsbury’s is paying for every box of bananas now covers the cost of the fruit, plus a premium invested into workers’ wages. The additional money paid helps the workers cover food, housing, education, and healthcare costs, improving their livelihoods and their families. The remainder of the premium is used to help the environment by supporting the banana growers in introducing sustainable farm practices, such as capturing carbon, reducing water footprints, and improving biodiversity and soil health.

Credit: © iStock/MMassel© iStock/MMassel

The UK’s retail commitment

“We only started the UK Retail Commitment last year, and perhaps the most critical part is responsible procurement practices and paying suppliers fairly,” said Diana Copper, UK country director at IDH. “By paying the Fairtrade Living Wage Reference Price and committing to longer-term contracts, Sainsbury’s addresses these key elements and shows that they are listening to their banana suppliers and producers.”

Ducett added: “Co-creating partnerships between businesses and their supply chain is key to achieving Fairtrade’s vision of a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future, and our work with Sainsbury’s furthers this.”

In 2024, the second year of the UK retail commitment, retailers are expected to begin translating strategic lessons, examples, and guidance to close living wage discrepancies, IDH’s report said. As a result, it will create concrete plans to address gaps in retailers’ supply chains.

“This partnership recognises that long-term sectoral change is urgently needed for banana workers,” said Ducett. The Global Living Wage Coalition’s shared ambition is for living wages to be locked in through fairer prices, collective bargaining agreements, decent work, and long-term contracts so that workers can benefit from improved earnings in a sustainable and long-lasting way that helps them plan for their futures.

“That’s why we’re working together to deliver living wages at scale, supporting Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence HREDD compliance and driving sector-leading change,” he added.

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