Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand has launched legal action against global banana producer Dole for attempting to trademark its ethical choice label.
Dole was warned by the Commerce Commission in June that it risked a Fair Trading Act breach after complaints its ethical choice sticker was misleading, in particular that it was certified by a third party, and made the company appear more ethical than competitors.
Fairtrade New Zealand operations manager Barnaby Luff said it had become increasingly worried about the way consumers appeared to think Dole's ethical choice sticker meant the company had been third-party verified.
On October 25 Fairtrade filed an opposition notice to Dole's bid to trademark the phrase "ethical choice" with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand. Dole has until December 29 to file a counter-statement or to abandon the trademark, Iponz said.
Bananas are big business in New Zealand, with the last household economic survey in 2010 showing annual fresh banana sales of more than $142 million.
Chris Morrison, founder of New Zealand-owned All Good Bananas, has said the company began to bring in Fairtrade bananas from Ecuador in 2010. Fairtrade certification means farmers and workers in developing countries receive fair and stable minimum prices.
Within a few months, Dole launched the ethical choice scheme, but he understood the California-based company used the labels only in New Zealand.
Dole did not reply to questions.