The LSFF will screen the film The Banana Price War by German director Sarah Zierul. Did you know that bananas are used as a decoy to lure customers to supermarkets, but the supermarkets don’t make any money on them? You can read about the dark side of the banana business in an interview with the film’s author.
In Germany bananas have been one of the favourite kinds of fruit for a long time. A whole third of bananas imported to Europe ends on German tables. However, this fruit has been the cheapest, although it is not at all easy to grow them. German discount retail chains have been embroiled in a price war; both against each other and against their suppliers. On the one side of the battlefront are the happy customers with trolleys full of bananas with the price lower than 1 Euro per kilo, on the other side are the workers on banana plantations who are the first to pay for the chains’ struggle for lowest cost – as usual.
Sarah Zierul went to see all the actors in the battle – a member of the management of a banana company, a small grower, a former manager of a discount store, representatives of European or German authorities – and tried to find out what behaviour would force the key actors to make the worsening conditions in banana growing better. The conclusion is simple – no government or corporation will do it by themselves. The only entity with real power is the customer.
In the 1990s there were many demonstrations against McDonald’s restaurants in the Czech Republic where the main argument was similar to that of the Germans protesting against Chiquita – the social and environmental impact of their business. Do you have any explanation why in Germany it is the banana supplier who has been the target?
The banana is, right after apples, the Germans’ favorite fruit. They eat more than other Europeans of it, roughly 12-15 kg per person per year. Furthermore, it has always been a symbolic fruit, standing for luxury and economic well-being. So it was a good and iconic “symbol” for protests against what went wrong in globalized food production. As one activist said, “The story is the same with other crops. But soy beans are just not as sexy as bananas.”
Your film comes to the conclusion that peace in the price war can arrive when German retail chains accept the solution of the Dutch chain Plus that offer only fair trade bananas. Do you know if things have changed in any way in Germany since the shooting of the film?
Unfortunately, the price war is still on. One retailer – REWE – has started a banana project where they donate certain amounts to social and ecological projects in Panama. But in general, the market has not changed and no German retailer is willing to follow the Dutch example and offer only fair trade (or other sustainably grown) bananas.
Why could you not get a statement from any responsible person from German discount stores? Are they silent only in the case of bananas or do they never give their opinion on anything?
The representatives of Aldi and Lidl generally do not like to appear in the media. For many years they didn’t even have a press department. Now they are opening up a little bit, but when it comes to bananas they know that critics say their low prices are responsible for exploitation and severe damage in producing countries — and I suppose they prefer not to be confronted with this criticism.