Banana is one of the fruits available every season and widely consumed in many homes in Europe, the United States and Asia. How I wish these bananas could tell the consumers the story of where they come from? A young Cameroonian named Franck Bieleu made a documentary called “The Big Banana” that profiles the numerous problems and horrendous challenges the Haut Penja Plantation’s (HPP) workers and those who live near it face. The next time you buy or see bananas do not rule out the fact they might have come Africa and most likely from Cameroon and possibly from Haut Penja Plantation. In 2018 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (AFO) ranked Cameroon first producer and exporter of Bananas in Africa.
Horrible Labor Conditions
Employees work long hours and there is no overtime pay. Their salary of $52 is lower than the minimum wage ($65) required by the State of Cameroon. Obviously, this salary is not a living wage and cannot help send their children to school. Those employed are reluctant to fight for better conditions because they are afraid of losing their jobs.
After their land was confiscated and given to the company, these family have no choice but to work in this plantation to survive. Loum-Penja is the most fertile region of Cameroon and was one of the bread baskets of the country. The Haut Penja plantation (PHP), formerly owned by local farmers, was bought by the French company La Fruitière in 1983. In 2004, Dole, an American company, bought 40% of the shares of La Fruitière.
Use of chemical products
It is possible that la Fruitière uses prohibited herbicides, pesticides, nematicides, fungicides. Chemicals are applied aerially forty times a month. Employees are rarely warned about the aerial crop-dusting. The chemicals are sprayed on employees and inhabitants surrounding this plantation. It has been reported that due to these chemicals, many employees have lost their sight.
Chlordecone is one of the chemicals it uses and it is very toxic. The National cancer Institute defines Chlordecone as “A very stable, colorless, odorless, synthetic chlorinated polycyclic hydrocarbon that is a degradation product of Mirex. Chlordecone has been used as an insecticide on bananas, non-bearing citrus trees, tobacco, lawns and flowers. Exposure to this substance causes neurological symptoms, such as tremors and slurred speech. Chlordecone is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. (NCI05)”.
To prevent bananas from ripening too soon, they are dipped in a liquid solution containing chemicals before putting them in boxes. After usage that solution is dumped in the water stream, thus contaminating people’s water sources. Recently the cases of cancer were reported.
When the population went to complain to the authorities, Mister Gilbert Hann, director of Haut Penja Plantation’s Saint Jean de Malte hospital said “these people are peasants. They are not educated. How could anyone believe pesticides cause cancer!”. Their grievances have never been attended to by the government because the company pays bribes.
Now you know, what can you do?
In the name of corporate responsibility, we have the duty to learn where our food come from and demand better condition for those who produce what we eat. In this case, the abuse of workers, the corruption, the dumping of chemicals in locals’ water sources must be condemned. The next time you see a Dole labeled banana think of the exploited workers, the poisoned land and water, the land grabbing at the expense of local small farm holder. It’s through our buying power that the company prospers. Today you have a choice
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