UK retailer invests in living wages for banana workers three years ahead of industry commitment, and urges others to do the same

Sainsbury’s has announced that from today (8 February), every banana bought in its stores will contribute towards paying thousands of workers a fairer wage and support the future of banana growers in Cameroon, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Ghana.

Sainsbury's Fairtrade bananas

In 2023, Sainsbury’s was part of a group of nine UK retailers brought together by IDH that committed to enabling banana workers – those employed on large banana plantations – to receive a living wage by 2027.

However, the retailer said that it had taken action to address living wages now, three years ahead of the industry commitment.

Sainsbury’s explained that the price it paid for every box of bananas now covered the cost of the fruit, plus a premium which is invested into workers’ wages.

This additional money helped the workers cover food, housing, education and healthcare costs, improving their livelihoods and those of their families, it said.

The remainder of the premium went towards helping the environment, Sainsbury’s outlined, by supporting the banana growers to implement sustainable farm practices, such as capturing carbon, reducing water footprints and improving biodiversity and soil health.

The retailer confirmed that it had moved to four year contracts to give its growers “greater stability and financial security”.

Call to other retailers

Sainsbury’s said it had worked with Fairtrade and banana supplier Fyffes to make the changes possible, and called on other retailers in the UK to meet the industry commitment early ”so that every banana worker across the whole industry can be paid a living wage”.

“Bananas are our bestselling fruit and by improving wages on this product we can positively impact the lives of thousands of people in the countries we source from,” said Ruth Cranston, Sainsbury’s director of corporate responsibility and sustainability. ”But we want every banana worker across the entire industry to benefit and we can’t do this alone, that’s why we’re urging other retailers to act now so that all workers can be paid fairly.

“By choosing Sainsbury’s bananas, our customers are helping to both enrich workers’ livelihoods through fairer pay and tackle climate change, supporting a thriving and enduring banana industry for the long term.

“This has all been possible thanks to our longstanding relationships with Fairtrade and Fyffes,” Cranston outlined. ”We look forward to many more years of working together as partnership is the key to creating resilient and responsible supply chains.”

Minel Bellamir, an employee at Bananeros los Ríos Plantation in the Dominican Republic, said workers were happy they would be able to improve living conditions and wages.

”To me, living wages means more security, better housing, and giving an education to my children,” said Bellamir. ”When Fairtrade and companies like Sainsbury’s work together and commit to support banana workers in earning decent wages, our families and communities have a better chance to establish decent living conditions.

”Fairtrade and Sainsbury’s are also supporting the development of better growing practices, which is especially important as I feel the effects of climate change and the impact this has on the production of bananas.”

Ground-breaking commitment

Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, said he was “thrilled” to be working with Sainsbury’s to work towards closing the living wage gap for those growing Fairtrade bananas.

“Fairtrade’s vision is a world where farmers and workers have the power to improve their livelihoods through better pay and working conditions,” he said. ”Paying a living wage is central to sustainability, and this ground-breaking new commitment from Sainsbury’s comes after detailed consultations with producers, who have helped shape the partnership – in particular by securing multi-year contracts which is a huge step forward.”

Sainsbury’s was making ”commendable steps” towards getting more pay into the pockets of banana workers, according to Diana Copper, UK country director at IDH.

”We only started the UK Retail Commitment last year and perhaps the most critical part is responsible procurement practices and paying suppliers fairly,” she commented. ”By paying the Fairtrade Living Wage Reference Price and committing to longer-term contracts, Sainsbury’s is addressing these key elements and showing that they are listening to their banana suppliers and producers.

”We have faith that more retailers will follow suit as the more retailers that embed similar solutions, the greater the impact will be on the workers’ wages.”