Informed Consumers Change Lives for the Better

Informed Consumers Change Lives for the Better

All too often, making a positive contribution to international development can feel difficult and out of reach. But a project funded by the Development Education Awareness Raising Programme enables European shoppers to make some simple, informed choices that have improved the lives of countless people in the developing world.

The Make Fruit Fair! campaign was important in Costa Rica and generated positive changes,” said Eva Carazo from the University of Costa Rica. “[It] helped us to generate awareness about labour conditions and environmental aspects. It’s very important for us to know we have allies in Europe.

Make Fruit Fair! advocates for fairer and more sustainable global supply chains for tropical fruit, especially bananas and pineapples. With funding from the European Commission’s DEAR Programme, Make Fruit Fair! has engaged tens of thousands of European consumers in their three-year quest for change.

Make Fruit Fair! has notched up results through two means. Firstly, by informing consumers in Europe about the human and environmental cost of cheap tropical fruit and encouraging them to change their buying habits. By selecting organic, fair trade bananas over the non-certified cheaper varieties, shoppers are telling producers that banana plantation worker’s health, labour rights and their environment are worth paying for.

A second route is through the targeting of powerful supermarkets – throwing a spotlight on how supermarkets abuse their market power to force down prices paid to producers to the extent that plantation workers in Costa Rica or Ecuador might work 12 hours a day and still take home less than a living wage.

Supermarkets are our main target,” said Mirjam Hägele from Oxfam Germany and International Coordinator for the Make Fruit Fair! project. “Retailers have such a lot of power that they are able to dictate price, standards and put in place restrictions on suppliers – even sending bananas back at the expense of the supplier – if bananas cannot be used.

The combination of consumer action in the European Union and actions by workers and others in Costa Rica, for example, has resulted in better and more permanent employment conditions on plantations targeted by Make Fruit Fair! Research suggests that the use of sub-contracted workers has fallen from 75% of the workforce to close to 25%. This is important, as sub-contracted workers are less regulated than those employed directly by the plantation owner and so are more open to abuse.

Similarly, aerial spraying of toxic pesticides used to take place in banana plantations in Ecuador while poorly paid workers were still in the fields, showering them with chemicals. But Make Fruit Fair!’s intervention has forced a re-think and in some plantations this practice has stopped altogether with workers issued protective clothing.

Make Fruit Fair! has successfully engaged with its target audience, spurring more than 172,000 European citizens to take some kind of high-level action, such as sign a petition. Project organisers are confident that by project end in 2018 some 2 million Europeans will have been exposed to their campaign.

Alasdhair Collins is a consultant with DP Evaluation and the external evaluator for Make Fruit Fair! He says that the project’s success is remarkable.

It’s very unusual to be talking about impact at this stage in a project,” said Mr Collins. “That we were able to see changes on the ground after 18 months of the project launching is absolutely astonishing.

Lessons Learned

Evaluators ascribe success to:

  • a clear message to consumers with clear imagery and branding
  • concise advice to improve the situation: buy fair trade and organic produce that protects the environment, plantation workers and the conditions they work in;
  • quality research into the purchasing habits and trading of supermarkets, including through crowdsourcing to identify the plantations that supply particular supermarkets in Europe;
  • primary research into worker’s pay, conditions and health a focussed target, starting with one supermarket and aiming to change its purchasing conditions, which then becomes a model for other supermarkets;
  • a well-run, highly organised campaign with a wide reach, involving Europeans from across the EU.

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