Dole slips on its own banana skin as ComCom points out dodgy ‘Ethical Choice’ label

The Commerce Commission has warned fruit importer Dole it may be in breach of the Fair Trading Act on three separate counts relating to the company’s Ethical Choice marketing scheme.However, only a court can decide if there has actually been a breach of the Fair Trading Act, with convicted companies liable for fines of up to $200,000.

The commission said it had received complaints alleging the company’s promotional materials were misleading, implying that Dole was more ethical than competitors when it had not demonstrated this, or implying independent certification by a third party, when Dole does not have any such certification.

The Commerce Commission warned against the misleading use of standards, including obsolete ones.

Green marketing advisor Kath Dewar said she expected Dole to ditch the Ethical Choice initiative as a result.

“With social media these days global brands like Dole take a real hit when they’re caught greenwashing. People hate having their trust in brands betrayed. It’s just commercially not worth the risk of them continuing,” she says.

She says shoppers were busy and needed clear signals from companies they could trust.

“Greenwash tactics like ‘Ethical Choice’ are designed to manipulate people into thinking a product is more desirable than it is. It’s really a case of buyer beware with these kind of claims. That’s why independently evaluated schemes like Fair Trade, Environmental Choice and organic certifications are much more valuable as marketing tools than self-generated ‘badges’.”

According to Good magazine’s Guide to Bananas: 

Dole’s Ethical Choice scheme conforms to the SA8000 externally audited standard. Under this standard, young workers aged between 15 and 18 cannot work more than eight hours a day, or have a working day (including travel time) of more than ten hours. Overtime for adults cannot exceed 12 hours a week.

Wages must be deemed sufficient to meet basic needs and provide some discretionary income. Labour-only or piece work, where the company pays workers only per unit of production, is not allowed. 

The scheme also complies with the ISO 14001 standard. This is a formal commitment by a company to improve its environmental performance by setting measurable goals. 

Dole also displays the ISO 9002 certification on its website, but this standard is obsolete and was withdrawn in 2000 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). According to a spokesperson from ISO’s Geneva office, it is “very strange that a company claims to conform to a standard which was withdrawn over ten years ago”.

Pesticide use? Dole declined to clarify what pesticides, fungicides or herbicides are currently used in production. Company spokesman Steven Barton said: “This information is confidential now that we have begun the process to move to our ‘Natural Farming’ techniques using a licensed and trademarked process. The process was developed using microbes readily found in our organic compost and by spraying onto the plants.” 

According to Dole this new approach would reduce the need for conventional spraying and the use of carbon-based chemicals such as organophosphates. The company says it will eventually phase out their use altogether, and in the meantime Paraquat and Terbufos are not used.

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