Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Dole scraps 'ethical choice' banana stickers

Photo / Greg Bowker
Photo / Greg Bowker

Dole has scrapped the "ethical choice" stickers on its bananas following a report which criticised conditions on its plantations.

The Oxfam New Zealand-commissioned report found the company used underage workers at its plantations in the Philippines, forced them to work up to 12 hours a day and paid them less than the minimum wage.

Green Party MP Mojo Mathers wrote to the Commerce Commission early yesterday to request an investigation into the ethical choice claim on Dole's stickers.

But the complaint will go no further after Dole, the world's largest fruit importer, announced yesterday afternoon that it would ditch the labels.

Dole New Zealand manager Steve Barton said the company was confident its ethical choice stickers did not mislead or deceive consumers. But the company had a made a business decision to discontinue the stickers on all future shipments "to avoid any controversy and distraction to our business".

Mr Barton said the company took Oxfam's allegations seriously, and it would investigate.

"If we find any practices that are not in accordance with our policies, those will be corrected promptly."

He said Dole had already identified many inaccuracies in Oxfam's report, and it had requested more information from Oxfam's researchers so it could fully investigate.

Mr Barton said Dole had strict policies and a long track record of leadership on labour and environmental issues.

"While we welcome a dialogue with Oxfam, we are also proud of our efforts and reputation as a socially responsible and legally compliant company.

"Customers and consumers can be assured that we will continue to uphold the highest standards with or without the ethical choice label."

The decision to scrap the labels comes after Dole applied to trademark them in October last year - just two months after the Commerce Commission warned the campaign could be in breach of the Fair Trading Act.

Ms Mathers said the Oxfam report suggested the ethical choice claim could be "entirely misleading".

"Buyers in New Zealand may be purchasing Dole's bananas under the impression that workers involved in their production are getting a fair deal. Unfortunately according to Oxfam's report the conditions involved in the production of these bananas are anything but ethical.

"No company that uses child labour, sprays workers with pesticides and harasses workers for joining a union can make a claim that their products are an 'ethical choice'."

Steve Anderson, Managing Director of Foodstuffs New Zealand said the company had been contacted by Oxfam about its investigation into Dole's Ethical Choice Label.

"We can confirm we have written to MG, the representative for Dole in New Zealand, outlining Oxfam's allegations, and we are now awaiting their response."

Foodstuff runs the Pak'nSave, New World and Four Square brands.

Its rival Countdown said it did not stock Dole bananas, as it has long-term partnerships in place with other suppliers.

"All Countdown suppliers are accredited and audited, but we are taking the opportunity to discuss the report with them," a spokeswoman said.

- NZ Herald

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