You may be wondering how this can be possible, and why if the pineapple industry has the potential to bring great prosperity to the Filipinos in Mindanao it is not benefiting the workers on the ground. The explanation rests on the fact that only a couple of major players control the industry, whilst Philippine farmers and workers are trapped in poverty. Thus, current practices are causing great environmental and social disruption.
An increasing number of workers are forced to work outside the purview of trade unions and employment protection laws and workers on the pineapple plantations do not earn enough to sustain their families. Situations such as these leave families with no alternative but to send their children to work on the plantations – a fact often accompanied by children being taken out of school. Based on accounts from workers, children are engaged in field maintenance (14 – 15 year olds) as well as pesticide spraying (16+ years). This labour is intensive and physically heavy, regularly resulting in illness – especially in the case of pesticide spraying, which often involves toxic substances.
The precise number of children employed in the pineapple industry on Mindanao is not known, but based on estimates from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (2010) we do know that in the two areas (South Cotabato and Bukidnon) within the region where the pineapple industry is most concentrated, around 240.000 children are employed in agriculture.
A vicious circle that can be broken
As we have seen in many of the BRICS countries, trade represents the fastest and most effective route out of poverty. But true development is only possible if all actors involved -from global companies to supermarkets, to distributors and consumers - take responsibility to ensure that, either direct or indirectly, they are not exploiting workers and stripping assets in the countries where they operate.
For instance, supermarkets as a sector are forcing their suppliers to bear the risk for their special offers, such as buy one get one free, or 50% deals. They use their huge buying power to get their suppliers to agree to contracts that allow the supermarkets to walk away at any stage, even after the products have arrived in their stores.
In the same way that global clothing brands have rightfully been held responsible for the sweatshop conditions suffered by factory workers in their supply chain, it is about time the global supermarkets are also held to account for what happens in their food supply chains.
This vicious circle can only be broken with the support of consumers. As awareness rises among consumers and more of them express their desire to buy sustainably sourced pineapples, the more companies will listen to these demands and incorporate the needed changes along their supply chain.