Flowers are a beautiful gesture, whether to commemorate a special day, say thank you, or simply just because. However, unless you buy fair trade flowers your beautiful gesture may not be as rosy as you hoped.
Flower farms are big business and the US imports the majority of its flowers, particularly roses, from Ecuador and Colombia. Considering that on Valentine’s Day alone, over 189 million roses are sold in the US, this makes flowers a major industry for these countries.
The flower industry is worth over 350 million dollars a year in Ecuador, but the industry has a bad reputation for poor labor practices and toxic pesticide use.
A big farm may employ as many as 600 people. Those with bad labor practices won’t provide payment for overtime, provide no health insurance, and have been known to fumigate green houses with workers inside.
There are even stories of pregnant women being fired or refused pay, despite the fact that women usually make up over half of the labor force on these farms.
Luckily, there are more and more examples of progressive farms. Just as the Fair Trade label has helped to change the lives of cocoa and coffee growers, it is doing the same with the flower industry.
Fair Trade flower growers must meet labor and environmental standards
Flower farmers that are recognizing the market for Fair Trade ethical products are changing the way they do business. Beyond just seeing the market, there’s also a need to incorporate social and environmental consciousness into their business in order to make it sustainable; business can no longer rely on a single bottom line.
Fair Trade certified flowers come from farms that:
- Pay overtime
- Often provide free daycare so women can work and help support their family
- Ban the use of dangerous agrochemicals
- Train workers in the safe handling of approved pesticides
- Provide health insurance
- Encourage employee development by paying for courses in finance, organic growing etc.
Though there is a premium with Fair Trade products (10%), this extra money is placed into employee driven development funds that may help them to buy their own homes, renovate existing ones or invest in the future of their communities through other projects.
This video shows how the life of one single mom changed dramatically by working for the Fair Trade flower farm, Hoja Verde in Ecuador:
Another wonderful example of a progressive flower farm is Nevado Roses. They have been Fair Trade certified since 2002 and have a list of projects that the employees have started as a result of their Fair Trade funds. They’ve even started to move a portion of their farm over to organic production. You can learn more through this PBS story:
Need to build US demand
The concept of Fair Trade flowers has been around in Europe for decades. However, the North American market has been slower to come around and build this into their flower-buying consciousness.
The Fair Trade Certified program for Fair Trade USA launched in 2007. Most certified growers are from Ecuador, with a smaller number from African countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe. To date, the purchase of Fair Trade flowers has generated over $600,000 for community development funds. A small premium for us can make an enormous difference in the lives of others.
As well, an increase in demand for flowers grown in a socially and environmentally responsible way, makes it easier for growers, like Nevado and Hoja Verde, to make changes within the industry.
So, next time you go to the florist ask about fair trade flowers. Start the conversation. Spread the word. Build the demand. Together, we can help improve the lives of others.