By Tamara McLean
New Zealand's most popular bananas may not be as ethically grown as their stickers proclaim, according to an Oxfam report alleging child labour and environmental damage on Dole plantations.
Oxfam has released a hard-hitting report calling for Dole New Zealand to remove the "Ethical Choice" labels from its fruit until it can drastically improve its treatment of workers and the environment.
The Green Party supports the cause, calling for the company to "come clean" before consumers vote with their shopping trolleys.
But Dole spokesman Steve Barton hit back, saying the report, still being scrutinised by management, was riddled with mistakes, and said more about Oxfam's "questionable dealings" than it did about Dole.
"This is a commercial move by Oxfam, where they've opted to get behind our competition, the Fair Trade brand, and they're trying to destroy the Dole brand in the process," Mr Barton told NZ Newswire.
The Oxfam report details unethical treatment of workers on Dole's Philippine banana plantations, claiming children aged 15 and younger are working up to 12-hour days in the fields.
Workers have been harassed for joining a union while others have been aerial sprayed with pesticide while still at work. Environmental degradation is also a significant problem.
Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates said the revelations were disturbing and required urgent action.
"New Zealand consumers deserve better than company green-washing," he said.
"It's time for Dole to stop making unsupported claims that they are selling ethically produced bananas."
He called for the self-created Ethical Choice label, which the Commerce Commission last year warned may breach the Fair Trading Act, to be removed.
But Mr Barton said there were no plans to change labelling.
"We're led by our customers and those we supply to, not by Oxfam, so no, we won't be taking any action at this stage."