Photo: Lee Forrest/Flickr
Today is Mother’s Day — which means big business for the flower industry. Mother’s Day accounts for one-quarter of U.S. floral purchases made for the holidays, eclipsing even Valentine’s Day.
But behind every colourful bouquet of fresh cut flowers is a story of foreign labour abuse and environmental destruction.
We spoke with Alania Paradise, president of certified Fair Trade flower company One World Flowers, about the hidden issues in the global flower trade and what consumers can do to have a positive impact.
Business Insider: What is the average customer not aware of when he purchases fresh flowers?
Alania Paradise: The average consumer usually is completely unaware of where their flowers come from, the practices that are used on the farms to grow them, and the complexities of the supply chain that brought those flowers to their local store.
To begin, the supply chain is dominated by massive customers in the United States and Europe that buy huge amounts of flowers and are able to dictate rock-bottom prices to the farms in developing countries.
Growing flowers is a labour-intensive business, so farms really have two main sources of cost: floral inputs like land and water and labour. When farms need to cut costs, they obviously can’t stop watering the flowers, so the first place to make cuts is in labour.
The results in the floral industry worldwide are underpaid workers who are forced into unpaid overtime or given outrageous quotas to meet before getting paid. Benefits and healthcare are rarely ever provided, and even basic necessities are denied like protective gear to keep workers safe from chemicals used on the farm. Other abuses can also prevail on floral farms where sexual or physical abuse is used to control a typically all-female workforce.
BI: Where do the majority of our supermarket bouquets and other cut flowers comes from?
AP: Over 90 per cent of the cut flowers sold in the United States come from outside our country. The majority of imported flowers are grown in Colombia, Ecuador, and Kenya. Most supermarket bouquets come from African countries that produce smaller, less expensive varieties. All of our flowers come from Ecuador where premium varieties are grown and the blooms are much larger.
BI: What does it mean to be a Fair Trade Certified Farm? AP: There are three main pillars to the Fair Trade program: Social Justice, Environmental Protection and Economic Development.
Social Justice means the Fair Trade farms change how they treat people, the main focus of the program. Fair Trade farms are guaranteed a minimum price for their roses when they sell to Fair Trade Importers like One World Flowers. That minimum price gives them a guarantee that they can cover their costs, make a profit, and pay their workers well. Workers are given a living wage, which is much higher than a country’s minimum wage, so they can support their families adequately. In addition, they are provided with benefits, healthcare, paid sick leave, and many other programs to give them a better quality of life.
Environmental Protection means that flower farms must eliminate a list of over 100 of the most harmful agrochemicals immediately. They begin using natural products like cayenne pepper and chamomile extract to deter pests, and many farms begin integrating organic growing practices.
Economic Development is the pillar of Fair Trade that makes it more than a “feel good” program, it makes it a sustainable business model that lasts. The fair price coming in to the farm, and the fair wages being paid to the workers are part of making Fair Trade economically viable for the floral farm. In addition to these, One World Flowers and other Fair Trade importers pay a 10 per cent premium on all purchases back to a fund that is controlled by floral workers. The workers organise democratically and vote on how those funds will be used to improve their communities.
BI: Why is Fair Trade important?
AP: Fair Trade is important all year, but especially at Mother’s Day because it can make a world of difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of women worldwide. Not to mention their children’s lives too.
BI: How can consumers have a positive impact on the global flower trade — and where does One World Flowers fit into this?
Photo: One World Flowers
AP: It’s important for consumers in the United States to understand that the choices they make when purchasing products like flowers for Mother’s Day can either make a positive or a negative difference in the world, and choosing Fair Trade is the right way to go. Flowers from One World Flowers and other Fair Trade importers might cost more, but it’s because they should. The extra cost is so a mother in Ecuador can feed her family tonight, and the environment around them will be healthy when her children grow up.
Bi: What bouquet do you recommend for mum this year?
AP: Our most popular bouquet this year has been the Helping Haiti bouquet. It’s a pink and coral Fair Trade rose bouquet. In addition to the 10% Fair Trade premium, One World Flowers also donates 10% of the sale price on this bouquet to relief efforts in Haiti.
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