Fairtrade bananas don’t just come from small farmers, but from plantations too. Fairtrade has different sets of rules for small producers and plantations. The rules for plantations emphasize fair working conditions and the right to collective bargaining (read the criteria here).
In the same area as Asoguabo, for example, there’s a family owned plantation called Prieto , which is fairtrade certified.
In the beginning, Fair Trade was only for small farmers, but later the system was extended to include plantations, in order to improve the working conditions for the workers, who are often treated inhumanely. For example Ecuador´s banana industry has had problems with child labour and violence against union actives (read more in Human Rights Watch´s report). The fairtrade certificate means that the workers get a fairtrade premium, secure working conditions and the right to organize (read more about why plantation workers need Fair Trade in Fairtrade Foundation’s report).
However, this makes it difficult for the small producers within fairtrade. A plantation produces bananas more cheaply than a small farmers’ cooperative, thanks to its economies of scale. For example, in Asoguabo all of the farmers have their own packing plant and are spread over a large area. The plantations just have a big one where they pack 1000-3000 boxes at a time. The plantations are fields with convenient rows of fruit, whereas the small farmers grow often grow their bananas on hilly mountainsides, mixed with other fruits, trees and bushes, far from the main roads.
The organization for Latin American small fairtrade producers, CLAC, demanded three years ago that no more plantations be accepted into fair trade. The American Equal Exchange also says that plantations don’t belong in fair trade. They believe that plantations don’t need help to access markets for their products. Small producers, however, do. This is why CLAC is launching its label to distinguish between products from small producers and plantations. Read more about the symbol in my previous entry.