The low prices for bananas in our US supermarkets often come at a high cost for farmers and workers who grow them. But as a Fairtrade America partner, Coliman is changing that. They prioritize the people behind their products, collaborating directly with workers to put community-driven solutions into action and support producers in building better futures for themselves and their communities.
Low banana prices, high cost for farmers and workers
Bananas are an important export crop for farmers and workers around the world, commanding $13.9 billion globally in 2020, but particularly for Latin American producers who are the leading exporters of the popular fruit. As the largest single country importer of bananas in the world, the US market for bananas is demanding. The average American buys about 27 lbs. of bananas a year, but typically pays just 62 cents per pound.
Feeding this incredible appetite for bananas presents an enticing opportunity to producers in Mexico, home to Fairtrade partner Grupo AGGALL-Coliman Bananas (Coliman). But market competition, labor shortages, and rising costs for inputs as well as labor make it a challenge for people there to make a decent living from the low price for bananas.
Given the low price for bananas, producers have to focus on making a profit and often do not have the luxury to implement environmentally friendly practices. Local plants and animals, and their human neighbors in turn, are affected by pollution of water and land around farms, contributing to significant health issues. In addition, a lack of access to quality education makes it difficult for agricultural workers to secure higher paying work. These factors all deepen the poverty that grips many communities dependent on banana farming and is often the root of other detrimental issues like malnutrition, violence and crime.
Coliman is doing business differently
That’s why Coliman, a family-owned producer of fruits and vegetables, is working to make positive change in the banana industry. With 10 banana farms and 2,400 workers producing fruit for export around the globe, Coliman’s mission is to “Nourish the world with high quality fruits and vegetables,” with a dedication to social and environmental responsibility that creates more value for everyone in their supply chain.
Since its founding 59 years ago, Coliman has integrated social responsibility into its corporate philosophy. The personal and family values that formed Mr. Jorge Aguilar Heredia, founder of Coliman, have been institutionalized and integrated through the day-to-day operations of all Coliman employees, or “collaborators” as they are called.
Coliman’s social responsibility is lived with great passion within the company and has helped us reach great achievements as a work team and constant growth over the years. But it has also been reflected in a better quality of life for all of us who are part of the company, our families and our communities.” – Erika Reyes, Social Responsibility Manager at Coliman
Why partner with Fairtrade?
Fairtrade has been working with banana producers for 25 years to drive social justice through trade and ensure that the farmers and workers behind this crucial crop are getting a better deal for their work. At the core of that work are the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium, which aim to provide a fairer economic foundation for the more than 36,000 farmers and workers producing Fairtrade bananas.
The Fairtrade Minimum Price for bananas is regularly reviewed and adjusted to continue providing fair prices for banana producers as the global markets shift. In January 2022, the Minimum Price increased by an average 8% in light of the financial pressure producers face now, and Fairtrade also recently introduced a Base Wage, requiring its certified banana farms to pay workers at least 70% of their country’s calculated living wage, which provided a wage increase of up to 15% for some banana workers.
Coliman’s work spans the entire supply chain of banana production, from the farm to the supermarket, meaning they are living out these rigorous standards and unique price and wage models at every step of the journey.
Additionally, Coliman and Fairtrade share a commitment to supporting farmers and workers in building the futures they choose. Fairtrade Standards protect workers’ rights to unionize, to secure contracts for employment, to decent working conditions and more.
Collaboration with and care for the people behind its products is part of Coliman’s DNA as a business, and their commitment to empowering farmers and workers through Fairtrade partnership is making a tangible difference for thousands.
How we’re supporting workers’ rights
“Fairtrade is unique because of the social impact it can achieve, from a personal level to a community level,” continued Reyes. “It is a very complete certification regarding all the practices to develop and implement in order to impact the well-being of people.
“And in addition, the programs that are part of our Development Plan, and that are executed thanks to the Fairtrade Premium, generate changes in the lives of our collaborators, offering them a better quality of life.”
The Fairtrade Premiums that go to Coliman’s producers are administered democratically through two worker associations, Don Jorge A.C. and Familia Coliman A.C., where workers themselves decide how best to address the needs of their communities.
With their Fairtrade Premiums, workers in Tecomán, Colima, Mexico, planned and funded the construction of the Don Jorge Aguilar Heredia Fairtrade Sociocultural Complex, a multi-building center to provide the local community with high-quality sports facilities and a safe space to enjoy communal activities, ultimately benefiting up to 5,200 people.
“The idea of a community center arose after several years of working together with Fairtrade,” said Reyes. “The [worker] associations were focused on launching more far-reaching projects that would impact the life of the worker and his family, but also benefit the inhabitants of their communities. The Center they envisioned could address issues of education, health, culture, sports and personal development.”
In 2022, the complex began to host soccer and basketball activities as well as programs in literacy, computer education, mental health and nutrition, theatre dance and community film. As the center’s programming continues to grow it will serve as an important way to support workers’ vision for development of their communities and addressing the unique needs of the people living there.
This new community center is an example of Coliman’s commitment to collaboration with workers on community-driven solutions. In support of the workers that developed the project, the Coliman Social Responsibility team served as advisers on the project, and Coliman’s owners supported the search for a suitable building site as well as the negotiation of the purchase price, the management of government permits and offered the support of their legal team to navigate the regulations associated with the construction project.
“Fairtrade has evolved our way of doing business and revolutionized it in every way, at all levels of our organization and beyond,” said Reyes. “Now we have a higher level of rapport with our employees, their families and the community.”
Deeper partnership, greater farmer impact
Looking ahead, Coliman aims to deepen its Fairtrade work and add even more value for stakeholders in all areas of the operation, including production, packaging, shipments, human capital, processes, innovation, social responsibility, and marketing.
As sales of Coliman’s Fairtrade certified bananas increase globally, so will the benefits to its agricultural workers, which – as we’ve already seen – will help support livelihoods and communities in Mexico.
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