Dole chucks Ethical Choice label in the bin as Oxfam report slams its practices

There's been plenty of action in the produce section recently, with All Good taking a pot shot at the corporate banana with a recent campaign and Oxfam—and the Commerce Commission—questioning Dole's use of the 'Ethical Choice' label. And it all came to a head yesterday after Oxfam released a report showing Dole's apparently dubious labour and environmental practices in the Philippines. 

While Dole said there were many inaccuracies in the report, it says it takes such accusations seriously and intends to investigate them. And, in what Oxfam—and indeed All Good—will see as a victory, it has also agreed to discontinue use of the 'Ethical Choice' label and withdraw its application to trademark the term. 

Oxfam New Zealand's executive director Barry Coates said.

We welcome this announcement. This is great news for New Zealanders. Dole has realised that the public won’t accept marketing spin and self-made claims. More importantly, we hope that this is the start of a process that will improve conditions for people who are working hard to grow the bananas we eat. Our concern lies with the women, children and men in the Philippines who are struggling to get by under conditions we would never tolerate for ourselves—child labour, toxic pesticide exposure, workers paid below a living wage, and a denial of rights to form independent trade unions—these are unacceptable regardless of whether they happen in Manukau or Mindanao.

While we welcome Dole’s decision to discontinue using the ‘Ethical Choice’ label, we are disappointed that Dole is not being more constructive in addressing very serious problems identified in the research report. We are still waiting for Dole’s substantive response to this report sent to them four weeks ago. We and the researchers are very willing to engage with Dole in order to ensure worker’s rights are respected and conditions are improved in their banana supply chain. 

Today we’ve seen an outpouring of public concern around the issues of confusing labels and exploitation of workers. This is a demonstration of how consumer power can lead to better lives for farmers in developing countries."

In response to the report, Dole Asia's New Zealand manager Steve Barton sent a statement through its PR agency Network PR:  

We have been in contact with Oxfam New Zealand, and they have provided us with a report they commissioned which makes certain allegations regarding the labour and environmental practices of Stanfilco, the Dole Philippines, Inc. division engaged in the banana business.

As we informed Oxfam New Zealand, we take such allegations seriously and intend to investigate them. If we find any practices that are not in accordance with our policies, those will be corrected promptly. 

We have already identified many inaccuracies in the report, which we intend to communicate to Oxfam and their researchers. We will need additional information in order to investigate further the limited number of remaining allegations. We have already requested Oxfam to give us access to their researchers so we can begin this process.

Oxfam New Zealand has also questioned our use of the Ethical Choice label. We are confident that our use of this label does not mislead or deceive consumers. Notwithstanding this, we have made a business decision to discontinue the use of the Ethical Choice label on all future shipments in order to avoid any controversy and distraction to our business.

Dole has strict policies and a long track record of leadership on labour and environmental issues.  While we welcome a dialogue with Oxfam, we are also proud of our efforts and reputation as a socially responsible and legally compliant company.  Customers and consumers can be assured that we will continue to uphold the highest standards with or without the Ethical Choice label.

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