Whether you ordered your stunning bouquet to be delivered by a singing messenger, or will be running into your local grocer at the last minute, chances are flowers are a big part of your Valentine’s Day. You can’t go wrong with flowers; they’re classic, romantic, aromatic, non-fattening, and a perfect and delicate expression of your love. Of course since it IS a flower holiday, the cost of skyrockets, but just like popcorn at the movies, florists count on your ignoring the cost in favour of the sentiment.
Sadly, the price tag is just one part of the high cost of flowers. Columbia is the second largest exporter of flowers, earning 1.3 billion in 2012. The Guardian recently posted an article about the growing industry and the price paid by the workers. According to the article “Behind the millions of imported flowers we buy every year is a mostly female workforce subjected to low pay and poor conditions”. These women leave their homes and children before dawn, working 16 hours, sustaining repetitive motion injuries and chemical exposure. They work at incredible speeds under tight supervision with minimal breaks, and near holidays such as Valentine’s Day they work double shifts – all of this for $269 per month.
There have been attempts, mostly unsuccessful, to form employee associations; however, members face intimidation and a culture of stigmatization. According to The Guardian, union leader López González’s was suspended without pay for four days simply for requesting a statutory break for her and her fellow workers.
The upside is that there is some slow progress being made with the forming of fair trade organizations that guarantee better conditions. The down side is low participation by Columbian flower farmers, and lack of demand by consumers for fair trade flowers. According to a spokesman for UK importer Quartz Flowers, “What we find in the UK with our customers [is that] if the product is of good quality, is consistent, then they don’t really ask for that [sustainability certification]”.
This year try looking for fair trade flowers, if your local grocer or florist doesn’t have them, ask why not and let them know you are not interested in flowers produced by suffering, impoverished workers. If you can’t find fair trade, don’t panic, there are other options – you can’t go wrong with fair trade chocolates and jewelry!