Environment – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en undersøgende journalistik Fri, 23 Feb 2018 22:55:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 https://danwatch.dk/dw-content/uploads/2017/09/cropped-Danwatch_fav-450x450.gif Environment – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en 32 32 Chairman of banana exporters: “We comply with all regulations” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/formand-for-banan-eksportoerer-vi-overholder-alle-regler/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:35:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22636
A Danwatch Investigation
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

"We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

The banana industry is one of the most important in Ecuador, and a great many people are dependent upon it.

More than 200,000 people pick and pack bananas on the country’s 5737 banana plantations, which sit on about 163,000 hectares of land. According to the industry’s trade organisation in Ecuador, the country accounts for 29% of banana exports worldwide.

Eduardo Ledesma is the chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, and he speaks of the pride Ecuadorians feel for the industry.

“Bananas are a point of reference both nationally and internationally, but it is a constant struggle between the government and the producers and exporters.  The country does not appreciate us.  Yes, Ecuadoreans are proud of their bananas, but the government does not give the proper attention to the banana industry.”

What about exports? Will it be better with the EU from now on?

Last year, we exported 319 million boxes of bananas, and this year we will probably be up around 323.  We expect to grow by 2 or 3%.

Who are your most important customers?

We sell the most to Russia, with 25%. To the EU as a bloc, we sell 33%, and then the US with 9%.

"There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?"

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

How much does a banana cost in Ecuador?

They pretty much give them away in the supermarkets.  They are not sold individually, and a kilo costs about $0.50.  Let’s say about 10 cents per banana.  The supermarkets are the big winners, but they are also the most demanding.  Ecuadorian banana production complies with all international regulations.  We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance.  The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA.

I can guarantee you that some of the plantations we visited were using pesticides forbidden by the EU.

I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation.  I am not surprised, because anything is possible.  As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules.  All I know is, this is some kind of European terrorism, coming to disrupt and influence the Ecuadorian banana sector.  Why don’t you go to Guatemala, where they pay six dollars, when we pay nearly thirty? Why don’t you go to Guatemala, to influence and annoy them?  We have asked the Foreign Ministry to look at the situation and complain about these organisations trying to damage Ecuador.

Do the pesticides used in Ecuador affect people’s health?

Some do and some don’t.  They must be used according to pesticide regulations. The pesticides that are used here are the same as those used in Guatemala, Colombia, in all countries.  If they are forbidden by the EU, then I can assure you they are not used here.  And in that case, tell me the name of the product and the banana producer.  Tell me who they are.  If you are a good journalist, tell me that.  My partners do not use pesticides that are forbidden in the EU.

"Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie. I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

We have spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air.

That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie (pounds on the table), then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie.

We have visited villages where current and former employees of banana plantations live. They say that the planes spray their homes.

It’s not true.  It’s not true… It’s a lie.  There is more pollution in other products than in bananas.  Bananas do not contain contaminants, because it’s not people doing the spraying.  The pesticides come from planes using GPS to control where they [the chemicals] land, and how they land.  If they were spraying over populated areas or in an irresponsible way, then people might be hit with it. But this is probably false information from competing countries that want to hurt Ecuador.

Let’s turn to the issue of illness.  The Manuela Espejo report demonstrates that the incidence of illnesses like cancer is significantly higher in banana-producing regions than in others.

That has not been proven.  I do not trust the report from the institution in question.

The Manuela Espejo report also looks at the incidence of cancer and birth defects near banana plantations.

That is not true.  If you continue to ask me about cancer and birth defects, I will continue to deny it, because it is not the reality.  There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?

What kind of documentation would you require to admit that this is a real problem?

I am certain that there is no such [documentation], and if there is, it has been falsified.  I cannot imagine why I should want to shut down the businesses you have examined.  No.  I believe that my banana farmers uphold all the rules.

The investigation is devided in to articles. You decide where to begin.

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The banana’s journey from Ecuador to the supermarket https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-bananas-journey-from-ecuador-to-the-supermarket/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:30:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22464
A Danwatch investigation
The banana has been on its way long before you buy it for a few bucks a pound at the store. The fruit hangs on plants in the tropical regions of Ecuador for up to a year before it is hand picked, packed and sailed over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. There, it waits to ripen until it is yellow and ready to eat.
Sarah Scheer Pedersen

Journalist

Photo: Esteban Barrera/Danwatch & Jesper Nymark/Danwatch

Editor:

Sarah Scheer Pedersen

Journalist

Photo: Esteban Barrera/Danwatch & Jesper Nymark/Danwatch

Redaktør:

I cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
The banana has been on its way long before you buy it for a few bucks a pound at the store. The fruit hangs on plants in the tropical regions of Ecuador for up to a year before it is hand picked, packed and sailed over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. There, it waits to ripen until it is yellow and ready to eat.
Cultivated for up to 12 months

Ecuadorean bananas come from one of three provinces: Guayas, Los Rios and El Oro. The fruit is cultivated here for 9-12 months until it is hand picked and packed by the workers on the banana plantation.

Source: “How bananas are grown”, BananaLink
Cultivated for up to 12 months
Across the Atlantic

The green bananas are placed in containers that are cooled to under 14ºC in order to delay ripening. Then they are loaded onto cargo ships that take two weeks to cross the Atlantic and reach European ports.

Across the Atlantic
The world’s largest exporter

Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas. Last year, the country exported 6.7 million tons of bananas. Many of them end up in Europe, where in 2016, 1 in 4 bananas came from a plantation in Ecuador.

Source: EU-rapport, 2017
The world’s largest exporter
The fruit companies and the supermarkets

The major exporters in Ecuador are Chiquita, AgroAmerica, Dole Food, Grupo Wong, Cipal, Fyffes, and the Ecuadorean family-owned business Noboa.

Increasingly, however, large European supermarket chains are circumventing the big fruit companies and buying bananas directly from the plantations.

The fruit companies and the supermarkets
Ripening in Europe

When bananas arrive in European ports, they are still green and unripe. They are placed in ripening chambers for about a week, where ethyl gas turns the bananas ripe and yellow to make them ready for supermarket shelves.

Ripening in Europe
Transportation through Europe

Over half of all bananas travel via Germany before coming to Denmark. A smaller fraction arrives from Holland, Belgium, or other countries.

Source: Baseret på tal fra UN Cpmtrade Database
Transportation through Europe
At your supermarket

In Denmark, conventionally farmed bananas from Ecuador are sold by the Coop, Dagrofa, Lidl and Aldi chains.

So far in 2017, Coop has bought 379 tons of bananas from supplier Chiquita. Dagrofa, whose supermarkets include Meny and Spar, has sold 19 tons of bananas from Ecuador this year. Lidl and Aldi both sell Ecuadorian bananas, but “for the sake of commercial considerations” preferred not to disclose how many.

Source: Own survey
At your supermarket
The green frog

Coop, Lidl og Aldi oplyser, at de kun importerer sprøjtede bananer, der er Rainforest Alliance certificerede, hvilket betyder, at de farligste pesticider ikke anvendes.

Rainforrest Alliance oplyser dog til Danwatch at kun to bananplantager i Ecuador rent faktisk er blevet monitoreret i efteråret 2017, da vi besøgte plantagerne.

The green frog

More articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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“The chemicals were like a slow death for me” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-chemicals-were-like-a-slow-death-for-me/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:20:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22553
A Danwatch INVESTIGATION
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norge)
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.

At three-thirty in the afternoon, he began to vomit blood.  Then he collapsed.

“I threw up blood five times. The last time I can’t remember,” says 56-year-old Efren Velez Cedeño, describing his last day of work four years ago.

For thirty years, he performed quality control on bananas being exported to places like Denmark and other countries in the EU.  That February day in 2013 was his last on the job.

Cedeño received a diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver.  Since he seldom drinks alcohol, some other cause had to be at work.  One possible cause is pesticides, and his doctors advised him not to resume work, because his condition could be worsened by ongoing contact with the chemicals.

“The doctors said that it was probably the pesticides that had ruined the inside of my body and ruined my life.  They also said they would examine my case more closely, but they never did,” says Cedeño.

A slow death

Even though the doctors advised him not to return to work because of the presence of pesticides, they would not provide Cedeño with a written assessment to this effect.

“The chemicals were like a slow death for me, they said.  It would be better to take precautions and not be exposed to the pesticides again.  But they wouldn’t give me a written certificate to confirm that it was the chemicals that made me sick,” he says.

“One doctor told me they were just following orders from above,” said Cedeño, but they would not say anything more about what that might mean.

All the people we spoke with who have become ill because of pesticides used in banana production tell the same story: that their doctors tell them unofficially that their illness is caused by pesticides, but when the time comes to get it in writing, the doctors demur.  Bananas mean big money in Ecuador, and few dare to cross such a powerful industry, especially if they live and work in one of the country’s banana-growing provinces.

Cedeño has a wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.  The family lives in a poor neighbourhood in Quevedo, one of the main cities in Ecuador’s banana region.  They live together in one room, which also functions as a kitchen.

On a number of occasions while working on the banana plantations, he was caught in a mist of pesticides, he says.

“It burns the skin.  Stings and itches.  We were never told ahead of time that the planes would be spraying.  Never. We had to try to hide under some plastic or overhang.”

He tries to remain calm as he tells his story.  He must be careful for the sake of his health not to become overexcited.

Danwatch contacted several banana plantations in an attempt to interview their owners.  None was interested in speaking with journalists.

Dreams that never came true

These days, Efren Velez Cedeño worries about his colleagues on the banana plantations.

“There are 200,000 of us that work directly in the banana export business in Ecuador.  How many thousands of us got sick?”

But like all the other workers we spoke with, he feels that he had no other choice.

Cedeño is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.  But when we ask him if he regrets having worked on the banana plantation, he swallows an extra time before answering.

“On the one hand, it was worth it, because I provided for my family and it was enough to live on.  But on the other hand, it has been my undoing, because of this sickness.  I hope that if we fight today, while we still live, the coming generations can be spared what happened to me.  I hope they won’t all be contaminated like I was, and that pesticides won’t kill them.  My dreams could not come true. Now I just hope that theirs will.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin. 

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They live and die by bananas https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/they-live-and-die-by-bananas-2/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:15:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22644
A Danwatch investigation
A Danwatch investigation
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.

San Pedro de la “Y”, like any other typical Ecuadorian village along the coast, is surrounded by banana plantations. The sound of the crop dusters spraying the fields with pesticides is routine here.

So are serious illnesses. San Pedro de la “Y” is in one of Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, Los Rios, where most of the country’s bananas come from.  There is a markedly higher share of cancers and mortality among pilots here, and more infants born with birth defects than in any other province.

Experts agree that there is a connection between these serious conditions and the planes that spray toxic pesticides over the banana fields.

Toxic pesticides

Several studies document a health risk by living close to and working with pesticides in Ecuador’s banana production

Increased risk of cancer

%

So big is the cancer risk in the banana producing provinces against a 2.4 percent risk in general in Ecuador.

Source: Defensoría del Pueblo, 2007 and environmental organization Acción Ecológica, 2007

Children born with defects

%

of children born in the banana-producing provinces are born with malformations. At a national level the figure is 0.22%

Children born with mental handicaps

%

of the children in the El Oro province are born with a mental disability due to genetic damage. The national level is 0.19%.

It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals. And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions.

Adolfo Maldonado, tropical disease specialist from the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica Tweet

In one of the houses lives a woman named Sara.

Like the rest of the people in the village, the family lives humbly. A framed photograph of a man hangs on the wall just inside the door.

“I am his sister,” says Sara. He died as a result of getting pesticides on his face.

A family affected by pesticides

Sara begins to talk about her brother, who is buried in the church cemetery. Shortly before he died, he went to work on the banana plantation.

“It was almost as if the fluid had eaten half of his face. He died shortly after getting pesticide in his face on the banana plantation. The doctors didn’t say anything about what he died from, or whether it had anything to do with the pesticides,” she says.

Sara is 40 years old and has lived here in the village for 13 years. She has trouble holding back her tears when she speaks of her brother. And then she talks about her son, born with multiple handicaps, like many other children in this village among the banana palms.

“My son has heart problems, his testicles did not descend properly, and he has a tumour in his head. It’s all very complicated. He has been operated on once, and needs three more surgeries. Where am I going to get the money for all these treatments?”

Sara’s handicapped son Brandon is ten years old. From a distance, he looks like a five-year-old.

“That’s him. He doesn’t grow very much.” Brandon was born prematurely and spent his first weeks in an incubator.

Some of the health consequences of pesticides, according to toxicologists and epidemiologists, are miscarriages, premature births, birth defects and other handicaps.

But the villagers say that the doctors will not confirm the experts’ assessments, especially not in writing, so it is difficult for local residents to react.

The hardest question

Brandon is in the sixth grade and has just learned to write his name.

“I take him to school so he can make friends,” says Sara.

Her tears begin again as we talk about her son’s future.

“That is the hardest question.  What will become of him when I’m not here any more?  I don’t have an answer to that.”

As we are talking with Sara, we hear planes overhead.  They are spraying the banana plantations around the little village.  According to experts and the villagers themselves, this is where the problems start.

“When we hear the crop dusters, we stay inside.  But they should warn us before they spray.  And yes, they shouldn’t spray over our village, but over the banana plants,” says Sara with a resigned expression.

“We are surrounded by banana plantations, that’s the problem.  I think my son’s problems are connected to the chemicals they’re spraying.  They used to spray right down our well.”

Sara’s husband works on a banana plantation.  “It’s the only work there is around here.”

Sara has never attended school, and can neither read nor write.  She wants to show us the documents from the doctor and the hospital, but cannot understand what they say.  The medical papers do not describe a direct connection between the pesticides and her son’s conditions, something we hear from a number of the other workers and families we interview in the area.

Can there really be no connection between the pesticides and the illnesses and injuries experienced by banana workers?

The experts consulted by Danwatch believe there is a strong connection.

Significantly more illness in banana regions

Adolfo Maldonado nods at the description of Sara’s lack of information about the reasons for her son’s and brother’s injuries.  He has heard it before.

He is a tropical disease specialist and the author of several studies regarding the health consequences of pesticide use experienced by banana workers and local communities in Ecuador.

“It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals.  And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions,” says Maldonado.

In 2007, Maldonado was a co-author of a report examining the effects of environmental contamination resulting from these pesticides in the region of Las Ramas-Salitre-Guayas. The report showed that newborns in Ecuador at that time had a 0.22% risk of being born with a birth defect. In the banana provinces, however, the risk was 2.58% – more than eleven times higher.

Sara’s dreams are for her children – that they will go to school and have the choice to work somewhere other than on the banana plantations.

“I just want my children to get an education, so they don’t end up like me.  I hope they won’t end up working on a banana plantation where they spray pesticides, and where the same thing might happen to them as happened to my brother.  He didn’t go to school either – couldn’t write his name – and that’s why he ended up on the banana plantation.”

Outside, the heat is dry and penetrating.  A woman sits nursing her baby just a few meters from edge of a banana plantation.

My child’s illness was caused by the pesticides

In one of the neighbouring houses lives Gregoria Ramírez.  She is 45 years old and worked for 11 years on a banana plantation.  She has four children.

On March 9, 2011, her life and the life of her family changed forever.  Gregoria’s fourth child, Taison, was born with multiple birth defects – a hole in the spine, a missing testicle, and a twisted foot.

“I asked at the hospital what had caused it, and they said it was the chemicals.  They asked me if I had worked with bananas.  I said that yes, I worked on a banana plantation, and so did my husband.  The doctors told me that was the cause.  That if you work with those chemicals and become pregnant, the baby will be born with deformities.”

Like Sara, Gregoria was unable to get the doctors to put their assessment that her son’s conditions were related to pesticides in writing.  But when we show her son Taison’s medical records to specialist Maldonado, he has no doubt.

“These are absolutely typical symptoms of effects from these pesticides,” Maldonado says.

Gregoria has not been back to work on the plantation since Taison was born. She dedicates all her time to caring for her son, who is now six years old.  He still uses a diaper, and probably will for the rest of his life, Gregoria says.

“Who knows how long he will live,” she says.

Her husband and two of their children still work on the plantation.  He declined to be interviewed by Danwatch, because he is afraid of losing his job or getting into trouble for speaking with a journalist about such things.

“It is wrong of them to spray”

Here in the village, the community is accustomed to the weekly flights of the crop dusters.

“It is wrong of them to spray.  When the crop dusters come, we hurry into the house because it stinks.  The smell gets into the house as well.  The fluid sticks to the plants and floats on the water in the river like oil.  I think it’s wrong, but there’s no other work here.  They have to work there.”

So says another of Gregoria’s neighbours, Cerilo Calderón.  He was fired from the banana plantation a few years ago after losing his sight.  He believes it was because of the pesticides, but he has no written diagnosis to back him up.

All the houses in the village have similar stories to tell, and all the stories revolve around the words sickness, bananas, and pesticides.

“I just hope my son doesn’t end up like me”

We also meet a 28-year-old banana worker, whom we will call David, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of losing his job and getting in other trouble.  He has worked clearing out damaged banana plants for three years.

David lives 200 meters from a banana plantation and sits facing the road with his sleeping three-month-old son.

“I want the best for my son.  I don’t want him to end up like me, working on a banana plantation,” David says.

He is very aware of the many chemicals involved in the work he does.

“When they spray from the air and we are working down below, our entire body starts to itch.  They spray some really strong chemicals.”

Gramoxone, Basta, Glyphosate. David knows the names, and knows it’s poisonous stuff, he says.  But what good does that do him?

“There is no other work for us poor people with no education.  It is the only way I can earn enough money to provide for my family.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
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The poison comes from the sky https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-poison-comes-from-the-sky/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:35:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22623
A Danwatch investigation
A Danwatch investigation
A cocktail of pesticides, of which a number are illegal in the EU and Denmark, is sprayed every week – not only over banana plantations, but also over banana workers and residents of small villages in Ecuador. Studies have shown 26 pesticides are used in Ecuador. Of these, eighteen are illegal in Denmark and seven are illegal in the EU, many of them because they are too dangerous. Meet one of the pilots who got sick because of his job flying crop dusters.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Redaktør:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
A cocktail of pesticides, of which a number are illegal in the EU and Denmark, is sprayed every week – not only over banana plantations, but also over banana workers and residents of small villages in Ecuador. Studies have shown 26 pesticides are used in Ecuador. Of these, eighteen are illegal in Denmark and seven are illegal in the EU, many of them because they are too dangerous. Meet one of the pilots who got sick because of his job flying crop dusters.

Anonymity

Names of persons and plantations have been hidden or changed in some cases to protect the workers’ safety. Their real names are known to Danwatch.

There is quite a collection of kegs, tubs and buckets of pesticides in the little shed beside one of the many runways for crop-dusting aircraft in Ecuador’s banana-growing provinces. The many containers bear witness to what is actually in the sticky drizzle that rains down over the banana regions. The day’s spraying is almost over, and the last crop dusters are sent up.

The name Dithane 600 appears on many of the tubs. It is the most common chemical spray in Ecuadorean banana production, and is permitted in both the EU and Denmark.

Another of the pesticides, one we see in a shed on a banana plantation, is Gramoxone. Its active ingredient is Paraquat, which is prohibited in both Denmark and the EU.

Jorge Acosta is a former crop-dusting pilot. He has sprayed plenty of pesticides over the Ecuadorean banana plantations – and on whatever else was directly under his plane.

Toxic pesticides

There are 26 active ingredients sprayed from the air in Ecuador’s banana production, but they are obscured by a host of commercial names. 18 of these active ingredients are not approved for use in Denmark, and 7 are not approved in the EU.

See the list

“In the beginning, I didn’t know about these risks. There was a toxicologist who told us we could drink a gallon of Mancozeb, and nothing would happen to us.”

Now Acosta knows that is nonsense.

“The worst pesticide still in use”

Before we come to Acosta’s own story, we will look a little more closely at one of the seven chemicals that are forbidden in the EU, but that are commonly sprayed over Ecuador’s banana plantations: Paraquat.

Alexander Naranjo is an environmental engineer. In 2017, he published a study called The Other War: The Pesticide Situation in Ecuador for the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica, which showed that there were 26 active pesticide ingredients used in Ecuador’s banana production. Eighteen of these are not approved for use in Denmark.

“Paraquat is really toxic. It is the worst pesticide still in use in Ecuador,” says Naranjo.

Gramoxone is the commercial name for Paraquat.

”Paraquat og diquat er i familie, de er begge ukrudtsmidler, og de ætser og irriterer. Paraquat er det farligste, og når det ikke er tilladt i EU og DK, så er det især fordi det skader lungerne, og den effekt kan være ret vedholdende.”

Helle Raun Andersen, ph.D. in environmental medicine from Syddansk Universitet Tweet

A 2016 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed a link between Paraquat and the risk of chronic bronchitis, metabolic disorders, and even incidence of Parkinson’s disease. In Denmark, Paraquat has been prohibited since 1994. A number of European countries had prohibited Paraquat before 2003, but since 2007, it has been illegal throughout the EU.

Paraquat is highly toxic and causes immediate damage if it comes in contact with the mouth, stomach or intestine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Paraquat causes toxic chemical reactions in the body, primarily in the lungs, liver and kidneys, and can also cause cellular mutation. Depending on how much is ingested, it can take between a few hours and a few weeks before the consequences of exposure to the toxin are apparent. These can include heart, kidney and liver failure; scarring of the lungs; coma; pulmonary oedema; and death. There is no counteragent that can treat patients poisoned by Paraquat, according to the CDC.

The American disease prevention authority recommends that if Paraquat gets on clothing, it should be removed as quickly as possible – and if it is on a shirt, it should not be removed over the head, but rather cut off and put in a bag. If the substance comes in direct contact with skin, it should be washed off as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Both Paraquat and Dithane 600, with its active ingredient Mancozeb, are familiar to Helle Raun Andersen, an expert in environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark.

“Mancozeb is a fungicide, and it is suspected of affecting thyroid function. If pregnant women are exposed, it can affect the foetus, because its developing brain is dependent upon hormones from the mother’s thyroid gland. This has been demonstrated in studies of pregnant women and in animal studies,” says Raun Andersen.

Paraquat, on the other hand, is an herbicide, she explains. “Paraquat and diquat are related. They are both herbicides that burn and irritate. Paraquat is the most dangerous, and the reason it is not permitted in the EU and Denmark is because it damages the lungs, and its effect can be very long-lasting.”

The lasting injury

But it is not only the immediate physical and perceptible injuries that are the most serious, according to epidemiologist Jaime Breilh, rector of the Universidad Andina in Quito and author of several studies of the effects of pesticide sprays on the health of banana workers in Ecuador.

Jaime Breilh explains that a carcinogenic compound may not manifest itself immediately, but may first become apparent one or even ten years later, depending on how dangerous it is.

The danger of a particular pesticide is one thing; another is the method used to apply them to the banana plants. Approximately once a week, a small plane flies in wide circles over the banana plantation – close to the banana plants, but not close enough, because the spray often falls over nearby villages.

Villages and plantations are very close to each other.

Villages and plantations are very close to each other.

On average, the number of applications of pesticide by crop dusters has risen from 22 to 45 per year per plantation in Ecuador. That adds up to nearly one application per week, according to the report by Alexander Naranjo.

The EU recognizes that aerial spraying can have serious negative consequences for human health, and seeks to avoid these consequences among EU citizens. Therefore, aerial spraying of crops with pesticides is discouraged unless exceptional conditions are present that would make the spraying an advantage instead of a risk for humans and the environment.

Nevertheless, European consumers risk buying bananas that are sprayed from the air with pesticides so dangerous that they risk making workers and their children ill.

As a rule, it is illegal to spray pesticides from the air in Denmark out of concern for health and the environment, according to the Ministry for Environment and Food. In certain circumstances, dispensation can be given, but no such permission has been granted at this time.

“There are no biocides approved for delivery via aircraft at the moment. There are therefore no pesticides being sprayed from planes in Denmark today,” according to the environment ministry.

Sprayed pesticides on children

When Jorge Acosta’s wife died, it was a wake-up call for the crop duster pilot. He quit his job as a pesticide pilot and created the trade union Astac, which attempts to organise Ecuadorian banana workers, who live in fear not only of losing their jobs, but sometimes even for their safety.

The banana regions of Ecuador are at the top of national statistics on birth defects, according to a report from Defensoría del Pueblo, the country’s human rights ombudsman. Numerous experts believe this is tied to the pesticides that are sprayed from crop dusters over the banana plantations.

The former spray pilot began to have a crisis of conscience on the job.

Former pilot Jorge Acosta (57).

“Once in El Oro province, I had to spray over a two-story house. There were two little girls outside playing. When the plane came close, I saw they were taking the laundry in. I refused to spray over that house, the girls, and the laundry. Later, the banana producer complained that I hadn’t sprayed his plantation.”

Acosta also began to worry about the health of the pilots spraying pesticides.

“Many of my former colleagues had trouble with rapid pulse, blurred vision and dizziness. When we spoke about our experiences, we all had the same symptoms. There was one pilot who fainted on his way out of the plane after he had sprayed a combination of Mancozeb and Calixin,” he says.

Calixin is also on the list of chemicals not approved for use in Denmark or the EU.

“I also experienced quick pulse, blurred vision and fatigue, but I thought it was a heart problem. I went to the doctor, but he said everything was fine, and that it was likely due to poisoning – pesticide poisoning in all probability, because the symptoms were the same as all of us crop-duster pilots were feeling. I began to worry because one day, just after I had flown and sprayed Mancozeb, I nearly fainted,” Acosta says.

Environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo has heard stories like Acosta’s before.

“Mancozeb is one of the most common causes of poisoning. When it is sprayed, people should avoid the plantation for at least 24 hours afterward. It doesn’t help to just go away for a moment,” he explains.

The banana workers Danwatch spoke with never leave the banana plantation for a full day after pesticide is applied. Some leave in the afternoon when the spraying takes place, and begin work again early the next morning. Almost all reported being regularly forced to continue working on the plantation while the crop duster was spraying pesticides over the banana plants and the workers themselves.

Naranjo confirms that it is not only the banana workers that are at risk, but also members of the communities that live nearby.

“The chemical sprays move with the wind. Mancozeb, for example, has been found a kilometre away from banana plantations. Pesticides are dynamic – they move with the rivers, rain and wind,” he says.

A dangerous cocktail

Naranjo harbours deep concerns about the use of pesticides.

“People don’t understand what it means to be largest banana export country in the world. They are proud of our bananas, but these pesticides are used haphazardly. It is really a terrible situation,” he says.

“The chemicals that are prohibited in the EU are used on all conventional banana plantations in Ecuador,” explains Naranjo. Which is not to say that Ecuador is unique among banana-producing countries.

“The circumstances are the same in other countries, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru,” he says.

Part of the problem with the pesticides in banana production is that they are never sprayed just one at a time from the crop dusters.

“It is a whole cocktail of pesticides. Several are mixed together, and one of them is always Mancozeb. The problem is that very little is known about the effects of combining pesticides in that way,” Naranjo says.

Chronic health effects

Patricia Polo Almeida is a health geographer who has conducted a number of studies on the health and working conditions of banana workers in several provinces in Ecuador.

Her studies show that the workers are aware that the pesticides affect their health. They remain in their jobs in order to provide for their families, but they do not want their children to follow them into the business.

“They feel there are no other choices available to them besides working with bananas, because they have families and have to work,” says Almeida.

She says that local residents and banana workers have reason to be concerned.

“They are spraying down a cocktail of chemicals. It affects not only the workers’ health, but also the rest of the population that lives in the banana areas. Spraying with pesticides from aircraft affects everyone. It moves with the wind. There are many handicapped children whose parents work with bananas,” Almeida says.

“The problem is when the planes do the spraying. It has a nasty smell, and it pollutes everything. You get dizzy, and it stings in your nose. The banana plantations are close by. But people need to work. If they don’t work, what will they eat? The people working out on the plantation when the crop dusters come – what can they do? They have to keep working, or they’ll be fired.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
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Danish bananas may be sprayed with highly toxic pesticides https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/danske-bananer-kan-vaere-sproejtet-med-livsfarlige-pesticider/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:48:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22598
A Danwatch investigation
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness. In Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, there is markedly higher incidence of cancer, higher mortality among pilots that spray pesticides on bananas from the air, and more children born with birth defects than anywhere else in the country. We spoke with banana workers who report becoming seriously ill after contact with these dangerous pesticides. Danish supermarkets cannot guarantee that the bananas being sold in their stores were not grown using these toxic chemicals.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness. In Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, there is markedly higher incidence of cancer, higher mortality among pilots that spray pesticides on bananas from the air, and more children born with birth defects than anywhere else in the country. We spoke with banana workers who report becoming seriously ill after contact with these dangerous pesticides. Danish supermarkets cannot guarantee that the bananas being sold in their stores were not grown using these toxic chemicals.

In brief 

Danwatch interviewed 34 banana workers, pilots, and family members of those sickened or killed by pesticides, and presented our documentation to experts in pesticide use and doctors familiar with pesticide poisoning in Ecuador.

Pesticides in Ecuadorean banana production

Danwatch acquired a list of the 26 most commonly-used pesticides in Ecuador’s banana-growing regions.  

The list is a compilation of data from the Ministry of Agriculture in Ecuador and a list of pesticides from the Pesticide Action Network.  

See the list

These data were then processed by environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo.  

Experts confirm that these pesticides are in widespread use in Ecuadorean banana production. We asked Danish pesticide experts to evaluate the chemicals’ toxicity.

Read more

The poison comes from the sky.

This is what some of the workers on Ecuador’s banana plantations told Danwatch.

From small crop-dusting aircraft, pesticides and fungicides are sprayed over miles of banana plantations and anything that may lie between them: villages, schools full of children playing, and the banana workers themselves.  Everything is coated with a fine layer of sticky dust when, approximately once a week and without warning, the planes spray the bananas.

And the poison that comes from the sky is highly toxic.  According to a new report from Acción Ecológica, of the 26 chemicals that were most commonly sprayed on Ecuador’s banana plantations in 2017, seven are illegal for use in the EU.  The Danish Ministry of Environment and Food, meanwhile, says that eighteen of the pesticides on the list are illegal in Denmark.  Experts tell Danwatch that, in many cases, this is because they are dangerous to the people who must work with them.

Several scientific studies link a number of these spray pesticides with cancer, birth defects, and higher mortality rates – and in the banana-growing provinces of Ecuador, these conditions are markedly more prevalent than in the rest of the country.

Ecuador’s three banana provinces – Guayas, Los Ríos, and El Oro – share a toxic first-place distinction.  They are not only the hub of banana production in a country that exports more bananas than any other in the world, they are also at the top of Ecuador’s rankings for children born with birth defects, according to national statistics from 2012.

Toxic pesticides

Several studies document a health risk by living close to and working with pesticides in Ecuador’s banana production

Increased risk of cancer

%

So big is the cancer risk in the banana producing provinces against a 2.4 percent risk in general in Ecuador.

Source: Defensoría del Pueblo, 2007 and environmental organization Acción Ecológica, 2007

Children born with defects

%

of children born in the banana-producing provinces are born with malformations. At a national level the figure is 0.22%

Children born with mental handicaps

%

of the children in the El Oro province are born with a mental disability due to genetic damage. The national level is 0.19%.

Two pesticide experts, environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo and health geographer Patricia Polo Almeida, say that the 26 pesticides on the list are in widespread use in Ecuadorian banana production.  

Unless the bananas are organic, some combination of these pesticides are sprayed on all Ecuadorean bananas sold in Danish supermarket chains. Coop, Meny, Spar, Aldi and Lidl all tell Danwatch that they import conventional bananas from Ecuador.

Coop, Aldi and Lidl respond furthermore that all the conventional bananas they sell are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an environmental sustainability organisation.  As we shall see later, however, this is no guarantee that the most dangerous pesticides are not used in their production.

Crop-dusting over people is not acceptable

We asked Helle Raun Andersen, an associate professor in environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, to examine the list of the twenty-six most common pesticides in Ecuador, as well as Danwatch’s photos from the banana plantations.

Raun Andersen notes that when a pesticide is not approved for use in the EU or Denmark, this may be because approval may not yet have been sought for the chemical.  But she emphasises that all pesticides are dangerous if they are not handled correctly, and that some indeed are prohibited in Denmark because they are too dangerous.  Of these, she points to three specific examples from the list: terbufos, cadusafos and chlorpyrifos.

“These are insect sprays with relatively high acute toxicity, so there is concern about injury to those working with them.  The last of them were banned in Denmark around 2011.  They are neurotoxins – from a chemical point of view, they are related to gasses used in chemical weapons – and in the worst case, you can die from exposure to them via the skin, inhalation, or getting them into your body by other means.”

Erik Jørs, an associate professor in occupational medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, agrees.

“Some of these substances are acutely toxic and have been prohibited for that reason (cadusafos, terbufos and paraquat). Others are less acutely toxic, but are suspected of interfering with reproduction, causing harm to the developing foetus, or being carcinogenic, and are prohibited for that reason (benomyl, carbendazim, flusilazole, tridemorph),” he writes.

Raun Andersen also notes deficiencies in the safety equipment used by banana workers in photos taken by Danwatch at the plantations.  

“If there is pesticide in that, then they should be wearing gloves and masks, which they are not.  Most of these compounds are absorbed by the skin, so the man holding that container could be breathing in small droplets, and will get it on his skin.  You can certainly be harmed by exposure to pesticides over time.  All pesticides are toxic, which is why there is so much regulation of them.”

Children born with birth defects

Nearly twice as many children are born with birth defects in the banana-growing region of El Oro compared to the rest of the country, according to a national survey carried out in Ecuador in 2012.

There are also significantly higher mortality and cancer rates in these regions, according to two 2007 reports, one from Defensoría del Pueblo, Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman, and the other from Acción Ecológica, an environmental organisation.

Pilots of crop-dusting aircraft experience 40% higher mortality than the rest of the population; among other banana workers, mortality is 25% higher.  The risk of cancer in the banana-growing provinces is 5.5 times higher than in Ecuador generally.

Several experts link these outcomes with the pesticides that are sprayed from the air onto banana plantations – and onto everything else that is adjacent to them.

One of these experts is epidemiologist Jaime Breilh, rector of Universidad Andina in the capital city of Quito.  He explains the relationship between mortality, cancer and pesticides.

“There is a very large number of pilots with cancer and liver damage, and when we compare their mortality with similar population groups, theirs is significantly higher,” says Breilh.

According to Breilh, there is no doubt that the chemical sprays have a negative effect on banana workers’ and local residents’ health.

“The chemical sprays affect the nervous system – not just of workers, but of their families, because of their contact with the pesticides.  In areas where spraying occurs, the pesticides fall not only on the bananas, but also on the workers.  It is sprayed over schools, children and water.  And it banana regions, those sprays are a mixture of toxic and carcinogenic compounds along with an extremely poor psychological work environment,” he says.

Spraying from the air over residences or people is never acceptable, says environmental medicine specialist Helle Raun Andersen.

“No matter what, you cannot spray from the air on top of people, that much is clear.  It is against the law in Denmark, because it is very, very difficult to avoid hitting people. But in addition to that, it pollutes the environment and the surrounding areas.”

The coming catastrophe

Another expert is doctor and tropical disease specialist Adolfo Maldonado.  He is the author of several reports on the harms done by pesticide, including one written in 2007 dealing specifically with the banana industry in the region of Ramassalitre-Guayas.

“It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals.  And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions,” he says.

In addition, little is known about the effects of mixing these different chemical compounds together – what in the banana regions is known as the “deadly cocktail.”

“It is a quiet catastrophe, the scope of which we are only beginning to realise.  If you have poison in your nervous system, it will be apparent in three days.  But if you have carcinogenic chemicals in your system, you may not be able to tell for one year, or ten years, depending on the dangerousness of the product,” says Jaime Breilh.

He believes there is reason to be concerned.  “If you inhale these pesticides or get them on your skin, you can develop cancer, or your immune system can be compromised through your bone marrow.  If the chemical affects the bone marrow, the immune system cannot function properly.  If you have children, they can be born with birth defects.  And if children are exposed to pesticides, they can develop leukaemia.  It is a vicious cycle,” he says.

In addition, little is known about the effects of mixing these different chemical compounds together – what in the banana regions is known as the “deadly cocktail.”

“It is a quiet catastrophe, the scope of which we are only beginning to realise.  If you have poison in your nervous system, it will be apparent in three days.  But if you have carcinogenic chemicals in your system, you may not be able to tell for one year, or ten years, depending on the dangerousness of the product,” says Jaime Breilh.

He believes there is reason to be concerned.  “If you inhale these pesticides or get them on your skin, you can develop cancer, or your immune system can be compromised through your bone marrow.  If the chemical affects the bone marrow, the immune system cannot function properly.  If you have children, they can be born with birth defects.  And if children are exposed to pesticides, they can develop leukaemia.  It is a vicious cycle,” he says.

Danish supermarkets have an obligation

According to the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which apply to all businesses, Danish supermarkets have an obligation to know whether the products they sell harm people or the environment.

Who sells conventional bananas from Ecuador
– and how many?

Ton (2017)
Ton (2017)

?

Confirms that they sell conventional bananas from Ecuador but will not disclose how many, for business reasons. 

?

Confirms that they sell conventional bananas from Ecuador but will not disclose how many, for business reasons. 

"The results are frightening. We think this is an important problem to expose and discuss, and it has offered an opportunity to have internal discussions about they way we handle this area."

Anne Mette Brasen, responsible for CSR in Coop Tweet

Troels Børrild, political advisor to ActionAid Denmark with special focus on corporate social responsibility, emphasizes the supermarkets’ obligations in this regard.  

“If they buy bananas from farms where pesticides are used, they are at the very least involved in the problem.  So under international guidelines for corporate social responsibility, there is an expectation that they do something about it.”

Ecuador exports nearly a third of its bananas to the EU, of which a portion is shipped on to Denmark, where they are sold in Danish supermarkets.

Four Danish supermarket chains – Coop, Lidl, Aldi and Dagrofa (Meny and Spar) – cannot guarantee that bananas in their stores have not been sprayed with highly toxic pesticides.

Dagrofa says that less that 1% of its bananas come from Ecuador.  In 2017, that came to 19.3 tons.  It is not possible to know exactly which pesticides were used on them, since that would depend on which pests and fungi were active in the region in which they were grown.

“For that reason, we cannot rule out the possibility that in some cases, pesticides may have been used that would have been prohibited in Denmark.  But as we know, bananas are not grown in Denmark,” says Mogens Werge, who oversees corporate social responsibility at Dagrofa.

Aldi and Lidl would not disclose how many bananas they purchase from Ecuador or how they are sourced.  Coop, Lidl and Aldi say that their Ecuadorean bananas are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a sustainability organisation.

The Rainforest Alliance itself, however, says that out of the 168 banana plantations it certifies in Ecuador, it has only been able to audit three in order to confirm that they are in compliance with the new certification standards. One farm failed the audit. The other farms are in compliance with the 2010 standards.

At Lidl, Head of Corporate Communications Morten Vestberg says, “A certification is not a guarantee against bad practices. If the Rainforest Alliance receives a complaint regarding a significant breach in the standards regarding pesticide use, for example, an investigation will be launched.”

The corporate social responsibility director at Coop, Anne Mettte Brasen, says that less than 1% of its bananas come from Ecuador.  In 2017, that number represented 379 tons.  

In reference to Danwatch’s investigation, Coop commented, “The results are frightening.  We think this is an important problem to expose and discuss, and it has offered an opportunity to have internal discussions about they way we handle this area.  We are aware of the challenges involved with spraying from the air, which why it is one of the matters we naturally and continually address in our dialogue with the supplier.”

At Aldi, says CSR Manager Pia Halldorson, its bananas are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which ought to guarantee a gradual phasing-out of the most dangerous pesticides.

“Should that prove, against expectations, to be insufficient, we will look at what other initiatives may be necessary,” writes Halldorsson.

Industry denials

The environmental organisation Acción Ecológica in Ecuador documents in a 2017 report that twenty-six different pesticides are in use in banana production in the country.  Eighteen of these are illegal in Denmark, and seven are illegal in the EU.

The banana industry in Ecuador is not just any business. Of the country’s 16 million citizens, 2 million work directly or indirectly with bananas, according to the national banana export trade organisation, Asociación de Exportadores de Banano del Ecuador. 200,000 are employed directly in banana production, which is the second-largest sector of the economy after oil.

The trade association’s chairman, Eduardo Ledesma, denies outright the conclusions of Acción Ecológica’s report.  

“The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA,” says Ledesma.

While Danwatch was in Ecuador, however, we observed illegal pesticides in a shed at a banana plantation.  We describe this to Ledesma.

“I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation. (…) As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules,” he says.

We have also spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air…
“That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie, then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie,” says Ledesma.

 
The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
]]>
They live and die by bananas https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/they-live-and-die-by-bananas/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:47:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22608
A Danwatch investigation
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness.
A Danwatch investigation

Get the whole picture in 2.44 minutes

På dansk?

De lever og dør af bananerne

Denne undersøgelse findes også på dansk.
Se den her
  • Bananas from Ecuador are sprayed with highly toxic pesticides, of which seven are outlawed in the EU and eighteen are outlawed in Denmark, according to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food.
  • The pesticides are applied by crop-dusting planes, which spray the poison over more than 5000 banana plantations in Ecuador, affecting both agricultural workers and local communities. The practice of crop dusting is not permitted in Denmark out of concern for human and environmental health.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), several of the pesticides being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations are either carcinogenic or have other serious side effects.
  • Cancer and mortality rates are significantly higher in banana-growing provinces than in the rest of Ecuador. Pilots of crop-dusting aircraft have 40% higher mortality than the population at large. Among banana plantation workers, mortality rates are 25% higher compared to other Ecuadoreans.
  • The risk of developing cancer is 5.5 times higher in the banana-producing provinces than in the rest of Ecuador.
  • In the banana region of El Oro, nearly twice as many children are born with birth defects than in the rest of the country.
  • A survey taken by Danwatch shows that Dansk Supermarked, COOP, Aldi, Lidl and Dagrofa (Meny and Spar) all purchase bananas from Ecuador.
  • Dansk Supermarked states that it imports only organic bananas from Ecuador, while Lidl and Aldi say they only purchase bananas from plantations certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which is working to phase out 150 of the most dangerous pesticides as identified by the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
  • The Rainforest Alliance informs Danwatch, however, that it has only managed to audit pesticide use in 2 of the 168 banana plantations it certified in Ecuador in 2017. According to new standards for Rainforest Alliance, only 6 of the 26 most used pesticides are prohibited.
  • None of the four Danish supermarkets that import conventional bananas from Ecuador can guarantee that highly toxic pesticides are not used in their production.
  • Similar conditions have been reported in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru, but these have not been documented in this investigation.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

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Maersk and the Shadowy Deals https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-shadowy-deals/ Sun, 16 Oct 2016 07:27:19 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-shadowy-deals/ Maersk and the Hazardous Waste in Bangladesh https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-hazardous-waste-in-bangladesh/ Sat, 15 Oct 2016 10:48:45 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-hazardous-waste-in-bangladesh/ Maersk and the Hazardous Waste https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-hazardous-waste/ Sat, 08 Oct 2016 11:35:23 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/maersk-and-the-hazardous-waste/ Broken Promises https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/broken-promises/ Fri, 22 Jan 2016 14:31:50 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/broken-promises/ Power relations in the value chain of fashion https://danwatch.dk/en/power-relations-in-the-value-chain-of-fashion/ https://danwatch.dk/en/power-relations-in-the-value-chain-of-fashion/#respond Fri, 06 Feb 2015 08:45:48 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=20483 Fashion production involves 165 chemicals that are harmful to people or to the environment, while the production of just one cotton T-shirt uses 1400 liters of water. Child labor and forced labor is widespread in cotton farming, and in the sweatshops of Asia seamstresses toil for a wage they cannot live on, in unsafe buildings and without basic workers’ rights.

The impact of our clothes on people and the planet is immense. So who holds the power to improve sustainability in the fashion industry? We take a look into the value chain behind our clothes to examine the power, opportunity and constraints of different actors.

The fashion value chain

A T-shirt or a pair of jeans has been on a long journey before they reach the hangers in the fashion store. A cotton item goes through five to six production steps before it is a finished piece of clothing. The journey starts in cotton fields in west Africa; North America; South, East or Central Asia, from where the cotton is sent to ginneries, where it is cleaned for seeds.

The cotton fiber is then traded and often crosses borders before it reaches the spinning mills. Here it is spun to thread or yarn, which again can be traded across borders before it is woven or knitted into fabric that, after dyeing or printing, is used for finished clothes in the garments factories mainly in China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Eastern Europe.

Did you know...

The production of just a single T-shirt requires approximately 1,400 liters of water, equivalent to more than ten filled bathtubs?

CO2 emissions from the production of the average textile consumption of a Scandinavian is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 2,000 kilometers of driving in a family car

A Swedish study has identified 165 harmful chemicals used in the production of textiles
Source: The Nordic Council of Ministers

This DanWatch article was also brought in Less Magazine on January 27, 2015.

Did you know...

The production of just a single T-shirt requires approximately 1,400 liters of water, equivalent to more than ten filled bathtubs?

CO2 emissions from the production of the average textile consumption of a Scandinavian is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 2,000 kilometers of driving in a family car

A Swedish study has identified 165 harmful chemicals used in the production of textiles
Source: The Nordic Council of Ministers

This DanWatch article was also brought in Less Magazine on January 27, 2015.

Print ink, zippers and buttons might have made a similar journey across the globe before they end up as part of the final clothing product. The journey is affected by linkssuch as farmers, workers, factory owners, designers, buyers and consumers. Each linkand each step of the journey presents a wealth of choices regarding sustainability.

1. The cotton field, Uzbekistan

When summer fades in Uzbekistan, over a million adults and children are ordered out into the fields to harvest cotton. They begin their working day at half past four in the morning facing 10 to 12 hours of hand-picking cotton. It is the state that forces them to harvest the “white gold”, the most important crop of the country. Cotton is an indispensable source of income to a country which is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of cotton. But cotton brings with it environmental destruction and massive violations of human rights.

The State of the former Soviet Republic has a tight grip on the cotton production. It
demands the cotton farmers produce a set quota of cotton and dictates a price well below the world market price. If the farmers do not deliver their quota they risk losing their land.
The artificially low prices that the farmers are forced to sell their cotton for to the State, leave too little to pay the field workers, thus the industry relies on forced labor for its survival.

Students and civil servants are ordered to take part in the harvest. Officially they are working voluntarily, but if they refuse they risk being expelled from their studies, failing their exams or losing their job or payments. Their actual choice is limited to taking part in the harvest or finding a substitute. In 2013 an anonymous school teacher told the NGO Uzbek German Forum about his limited opportunities to avoid picking cotton:
“If you do not arrive to pick cotton, what will happen? They will make you work anyway. Pick cotton or quit your job. We are told that this is our duty to the state. If you do not like it, quit. I cannot quit, for who is going to feed my family? So I have to go. I will work my 25 days and then go back to school”.

Several NGOs like the Uzbek-German Forum encourage fashion brands to boycott Uzbek cotton. H&M has, like many other international brands, signed a pledge to not knowingly source Uzbek cotton. But the origin of the cotton is often lost in the long value chain of fashion production. Knowing is the key word here. Only a few brands know where the cotton they use in their products has been grown and for most, full traceability is not a priority.

2.The designer

Barbara í Gongini and Ole í Gongini Jensen are the married couple behind the brand Barbara í Gongini. Barbara is the designer and Ole is the CEO. They welcome me into their design studio which is buzzing with young employees, many of whom are wearing items of the brand. Black is the dominating color but the uniformity of color is balanced with the versatility of shape and structure.

Barbara is in the middle of a meeting with designers and sales staff, but takes the time to explain how sustainability is an integrated part of the brand and of the ideas behind her design:
“Our design challenges tradition. Not only the aesthetics of fashion, but also the modes of production and consumption. We aim for multifunctionality and changeability through interaction with the user. This enhances the lifecycle of the clothes and challenges the tendency towards shifting trends and the need to buy new.”

This approach to the sustainability challenge seems to be a source of creativity rather than a limitation to the design process. As Barbara moves on to talk about the production process she admits that this part is much less “sexy”, but nevertheless important. She uses the production of leather items as an example and begins with the choice of material: “We use, for example, leather made from cow-, lamb- and goat-hide, to avoid using leather from caged animals. Then we look at the processing, which for conventional leather products entails a lot of chemicals, such as chrome in the tanning process.”

These chemicals pose a risk to the local environment, to workers at all tiers of the production chain as well as to consumers, so Barbara has made a choice, even though it has a certain smelly disadvantage: “We use only vegetable tanning which is based on natural tannins from plants. It took a while for our customers to accept this, as this process means that the finished products have a distinct odour of “animal”. At first, some of our retailers called us to complain. However, when we explained the reason for this, they accepted it and in a way it became a quality in itself. It helped to highlight the sustainability of the product, which otherwise cannot often be seen – or smelled – in the final product.”

Determination and compromise

In the particular case of the smelly leather Barbara stuck to her sustainable choice. This is not always the case though. Barbara prefers organic raw materials, but this does not fit well with the predominance of black in her collections.  “Black dye is simply not available ecologically; it cannot be made. So we have to lower the bar and aim for low impact color instead.”

Barbara and Ole are in no doubt that working with sustainability entails a lot of doubts, compromise and prioritising. Sometimes it is not clear what the most sustainable choice is.  Organic cotton for example, is produced without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and spares the local environment, farm workers and those who process the raw cotton. But some say that organic cotton consumes more water and that it is often transported over further distances, thus emitting more CO2 than conventional cotton.

Sustainable choices require immense knowledge of a range of issues, and sometimes you have to compromise between them. Barbara tells me about their leather manufacturer in Pakistan: “They employ women, which I really want to support, because this is not common in Pakistan, where women are often not allowed to work or even go to school.”

She is not 100 % sure about the way they handle their wastewater though. The manufacturer is connected to a treatment plant, but Barbara has not been able to obtain documentation to confirm that the water is actually clean enough after processing. She has chosen to stick to this supplier even though she is not able to evaluate the wastewater treatment: “Sometimes you simply fall short of expertise. So in this matter I simply have to trust the company and the authorities.”

Balancing sustainability and economics

Internally in the company of Barbara í Gongini there is a constant balancing between the concerns of design, sustainability and sales. They have to make a profit and continue the growth of the company to keep the bank happy. According to Ole the general focus of society on economic growth is a major barrier to the transition towards sustainable fashion: “As long as the sustainable choice comes at a higher price than the price you have to pay if you choose to make a major environmental impact, it will be difficult to change the industry.”

Though sustainability often comes with significant costs Ole has a few tips on “free” choices a clothing company can make. It starts in the design process where adjusting the design to the width of the fabric can minimize waste. He recommends operating locally, thus minimizing the use of resources – both economically and environmentally – on transport and warehousing. By having only a few suppliers Barbara í Gongini skips the expensive freight costs of transporting samples back and forth between the headquarters and the suppliers, and travels to the suppliers in person instead. A simple tip is to ask the supplier what packaging he offers, and choose one that is recycled or degradable. These rather simple choices should be within the power of every clothing company.

The garments factory, Bangladesh

Working conditions in the garments industry of Bangladesh have attracted attention from the world press time and time again. Stowed together in unsafe factory buildings, more than four million workers toil for low wages producing clothes for consumers all over the world. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing several garments factories in April 2013 focused the attention of the world on the harsh conditions in the garments industry.

Seamstresses Laila, Shila and Anzu Ara, who DanWatch met a year after the collapse, worked on the sixth floor of the building. When they showed up for work on the day of the collapse rumors  about the safety of the building were already flying around. The area in front of the factory was filled with nervous seamstresses too afraid to enter the building. The message from their boss was clear though: “No work means no pay” and the workers brushed aside their concerns, entered the building and started their working day. Less than an hour later, the building collapsed.
“I heard a loud bang and turned to run toward the stairs – the next thing I remember is waking up in darkness hearing the screams of my colleagues shouting for help,” Laila recounts.

Laila, Shila og Anzu Ara were lucky. They were all dug out of the ruins alive where more than 1100 workers lost their lives. On that fateful morning they did not see it as a viable option to refuse to go to work. They were too dependent on their wages and their jobs to stand up to their employer, and they did not have a trade union or similar workers’ organization to help them stand united against their boss.
“They could see the cracks in the building that morning, but even though they were afraid they still had to work. At the end of the day it is about putting food on the table so they would still go to work,” says Kasheful Hoda, researcher at the Bangladeshi Society ‘Research Initiative for Social Equity (RISE).

Since Rana Plaza there has been an increased focus on the safety of workers and trade union rights in general. The desire for unionization and to push for better wages and working conditions is growing, but it is not without risk. Garments workers who have attempted to organize unions and fight for fair salaries and workers’ rights are harassed or fired and there have been examples of protesting or striking workers who have been beaten up or had their homes raided. Many garments workers are too afraid to lose their jobs and thus their livelihood in the fight for better working conditions. The power relations between garments workers and manufacturers are still far from even.

The manufacturer is under pressure

An improvement of wages and working conditions for garments workers would mean higher production costs for the manufacturers and this is a challenge for them.
Mahiuddin Faruqui, manager of a garments factory in Bangladesh, which supplies several European brands, and former Vice President for the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA) says the manufacturers are under pressure from the buyers: “Since Rana Plaza it has been hard for the factory owners and many factories have closed. We have to use a lot of money in securing the buildings. But the price for our products remains the same. The buyers do not want to pay more. They still try to push the price down.”

Kasheful Hoda from RISE stresses that the buyers have placed their orders in Bangladesh because of the low wages:
“If buyers were interested in paying a higher price, they would have had their things made in Eastern Europe. They come here for the cheap labor, and their desire is reflected by the attitude of factory owners and the government of Bangladesh.”

After Rana Plaza many international brands have committed to work for improvements in the garments sector. The minimum wage has been raised and more than 1,000 factories have been inspected and ordered to make safety improvements. Whether the commitment of the fashion brands goes deeper than the search for cheap manufacturing remains an open question.

3.The CSR Manager

Morten Lehmann is CSR-manager with the second largest Danish fashion retailer, IC Group. He believes that knowledge, prioritization and partnerships are the key drivers of sustainable development. Since February 2013 IC Group has been a member of Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a multistakeholder-coalition of over 80 brands, suppliers and NGOs, promoting methods of measuring sustainability and engaging members in dialog and common approaches towards sustainability. I meet him to discuss the opportunities and challenges he experiences in his work with CSR in fashion.

The fashion industry has major social and environmental impacts: Child labor, living wages, use of chemicals  and climate impact to name just a few. As a CSR-manager Morten Lehmann has to take all of these into account and prioritize his efforts. He does this by identifying not only the biggest challenges of his company, but also where they have the best chance of doing something about it. Knowledge is essential in this process and new learnings can change priorities. Morten was recently surprised to learn more about the climate impact of different tiers in the supply chain: “Until recently we thought that the climate impact of our business was primarily located in the cotton fields where our raw materials are produced, which is tier five in our supply chain. However, we found out that there is a major climate impact from the consumption of energy in the factories where our garments are sewn. These are tier one in our supply chain, where we have much more leverage.”

This leverage is exercised by inviting suppliers to training sessions where the analysis is presented and suppliers who have cut down on energy consumption share their experiences. This approach is encouraging and effective says Morten: “We do not approach them with pointing the finger and the argument of ‘because we say so’. We rather provide facts, knowledge and tools. We do not just facilitate the change we desire, we also offer them the opportunity to save some money.”

Trust and dialog instead of demands

Morten has a strong belief in dialog and trust with the suppliers rather than demands and check-ups. The membership of Sustainable Apparel Coalition facilitates this. Sustainable Apparel Coalition represents over 40 percent of the global market share of the apparel and footwear industries. It has developed an index to measure sustainability performance called The Higg Index, and it is a great tool to measure the environmental and social sustainability performance and assigning an overall sustainability score. Traditionally, only buyers have been measuring their suppliers, but The Higg Index measures both production facilities and brands. “It is like Facebook – when you connect with a supplier or buyer you can see their score. In this way, our suppliers can see that we are not perfect. This encourages the suppliers to be honest, to admit their strengths and weaknesses, so we can work with them.”

According to Morten the work with The Higg Index includes the suppliers in the sustainability discussion in an unprecedented way. Suppliers have participated in the development of the tool and they can see the score for both suppliers and brands. They are informed by The Higg Index about not only their own performance, but also the performance of their buyers. High performing suppliers can share their experiences with others, thereby altering the traditional relationship of buyers telling suppliers what to do.

Knowledge becomes an effective tool

The Higg Index is not only a measuring device; it also offers examples on how to improve your score. Morten Lehmann sees this as an effective tool which empowers not only CSR-staff but also designers and purchasers to ask the right questions and make the best choices. Their choice between for instance different materials or washing techniques is exchanged into score points mirroring the sustainability effect. Thus they can use The Higg Index to get an immediate evaluation of the available options, and to highlight the easy gains where there is a relatively huge improvement for a small effort.

One thing is knowledge; another thing is internal business structures that allow you to make use of your knowledge and prioritize sustainability. Currently, there is not a strong business case in terms of end consumer demand for sustainability efforts. Morten regrets this. “Today, whether you do something or not makes relatively little difference to the customers. It would be fantastic if our customers would demand and value sustainability even more. It would give the CSR-departments much more leverage internally in clothing companies. But for this to happen we need to make it much more easy for the consumers to make the sustainable choice”.

For now, The Higg Index score of a company is only available to its employees and its business partners. It is not available to the public, and a brand is not even allowed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to advertise it. It could be an empowering tool for the ethical customer who wants to buy sustainable clothes, but who these days is badly equipped to evaluate the overall sustainability of a piece of clothing or a brand.

The knowledge-driven and systematic approach to sustainability that The Higg Index is part of also empowers Morten Lehmann in the dialog with stakeholders: “I am proud to be able to meet critical stakeholders, be it the press, NGOs or the authorities, with a thorough explanation of why we do not necessarily do as they wish, but might have chosen another approach which in the end is more sustainable.” As with the suppliers, he appreciates dialog and cooperation with different actors who can all contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry: “Companies, authorities, unions, NGOs and consumers, we need to be clear about the expertise of each of us, and when we should work with who. We have different competences but we share the responsibility.”

4.The consumer

Consumer information about clothes is often limited to parts of the history of the item, for example, the country of final production, which is usually stated on the product: Made in China or Made in Bangladesh. But where does the cotton come from? Where has it been cleansed, spun or dyed? And under what working conditions – not only in the final production but throughout the value chain? The cotton in a blouse, which has been sewn under good conditions at a garments factory in Bangladesh, might have been picked by forced laborers in Uzbekistan and the yarn might have been spun by child laborers in Pakistan.

Common certification schemes often only focus on a selected part of the value chain or certain sustainability issues. The Oeko-Tex certification as an example guarantees that the clothes are free from substances that could be harmful to the consumer, but it does not take the overall impact on environment and health in the production of the clothes into account. The EU Ecolabel takes the whole supply chain into account, but only with regards to the environmental impact, not the social.

It is not easy to figure out which sustainability issues different certification schemes address and how, but the consumer is not powerless. She can inform herself about the schemes and the sustainability issues relevant to different products and choose the most sustainable options. She can raise her concerns in the shops or towards the clothing company, or even on a political level. She can also make the more radical choice to simply not buy new clothes, or buy second-hand clothes instead. Garments production is however a complicated affair with a diversity of sustainability issues in a complex supply chain.

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