CAFOD has joined other agencies in attacking supermarket giant Asda/WalMart for slashing the price of non-fairtrade bananas in a 'price war' with its rivals. Fairtrade groups are furious that Asda/WalMart would risk leading the highly lucrative British banana market into a potentially savage price war. The supermarket giant has cut its banana prices by a full quarter of an already low price in a desperate bid to wean customers away from its rivals. But Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons have already followed suit and also slashed prices of ordinary bananas to 64p per kilo. The cut spells major collateral damage for people and the environment in banana exporting communities in West Africa and Latin America. Didier Leiton, a former Del Monte worker in Costa Rica who was sacked for trying to improve conditions for himself and his fellow workers, said: "It could mean that banana workers will be forced to stop sending their children to school. "This price cut at your end of the chain will fall on the shoulders of the plantation workers, as it always does. It spells lower wages and less rights." This is the third time in a decade that Asda/WalMart, which sells one in every seven bananas in the UK, has set off a banana price war. Almost no banana plantation worker in the industry can be said to earn a "living wage" any more, something which Asda and its competitors aspire to ensuring in all their supply chains. CAFOD campaigns co-ordinator Maria Elena Arana said: "Retailers should know from past experience that cutting the price of an already cheap food does not bring them more business. "Two-thirds of people who buy bananas, studies have shown, cannot say how much they paid when they walk out of the store. "It remains to be seen whether Asda's competitors will try and exact price cuts from their suppliers in order to fund their own price cuts. This would spell further misery for workers well beyond the plantations in Cameroon, Costa Rica and Brazil where Asda bananas are produced." Banana Link international co-ordinator Alistair Smith says that this move is "very bad news indeed" for all the consumers, farmers and plantation workers who have been trying to support fairtrade. He said: "Not only is it a very cynical move by the world's biggest company but it could undo the work being done by some other major retailers and their suppliers to try and reverse this race to the bottom. "Most retailers want to contribute to making poverty history, but it seems that Asda has developed a serious case of schizophrenia. On the very day it announces a massive jump in Fairtrade sales, it also savages its banana prices." British consumers are becoming more and more concerned about the conditions in which most of their favourite fruit is produced and have been asking questions of the supermarkets and the big banana companies. This has created a new market which offers hope to farmers struggling to compete and fairtrade bananas - which guarantee a higher price to producers - now account for 7% of all bananas sold in Britain. Barbara Crowther, head of communications at The Fairtrade Foundation, commented: "This news, coupled with the EU tariff reform and abolition of quotas as of 1 January 2006, means that we are anticipating some real downward pressures in the banana supply chains in the next few months. "Only with the Fairtrade Mark can people be sure that any price cut on the shelf will not have resulted in a wage cut for a farmer or worker in a developing country."
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