Flowers for Valentine’s Day: The True Cost of Romance

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!

Florimex Roses – Canada’s Favourite Fair Trade Product 2014

Full Bloom Flowers

Fairtrade Canada

Fairtrade-Chic-Rose-Hand-tied1

Beyond the sexy consequences part 2: giving chocolate for Valentines Day

This post builds on our Valentines Day post from last year: Beyond the Sexy Consequences of Giving Flowers for Valentine’s Day.

Flickr / Stewart

It’s Valentines Day. Before you present that fancy-looking box of chocolates to your love, ensure there’s a fair trade logo on the package. With chocolate supply chain concerns becoming more mainstream, it’s likely your special someone has read an article, scanned a blog post, watched a news story or catchy You Tube video outlining the ethical and ecological concerns in this industry.

Take for example an article running in this weekend’s Globe and Mail that covers the status of cocoa production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s two largest producers of cocoa. According to the article, both countries are on a path to “ecological implosion”. Forests are being cut down to make room for more crop land, existing tree stocks are aging, soil is depleting, temperatures are rising and rainfall has become erratic. Add to this concerns of child labour and you have one very un-sustainable and un-ethical product.

Fair Trade Cocoa

Flickr / jetalone

One way to remove the exploitive elements of chocolate from your gift is to buy official fair trade certified products. Doing so provides you with the assurance the cocoa production was independently monitored to ensure farmers received a reliable and living wage for their work. Fair trade also encourages sustainable farming.

Cocoa lends itself well to fair trade. It’s one of the few global commodities grown predominantly by small holders on plots of three acres or less. By meeting fair trade standards, small producers receive a higher price for their crops. Through additionally organizing into co-operatives, they can benefit from social premiums associated with fair trade projects to invest back into their communities for schools, roads and other initiatives.

Innovative Fair Trade Resources

To help you make the right decision this year, we’ve collected together a number of innovative fair trade chocolate resources.

  • The Good Guide, a product rating database for health, environment and social impacts, recently announced a partnership with Fair Trade USA around their  new chocolate rating category. Available through a smart phone app, the Good Guide can be referenced from the store aisle. Check the rating on that box of chocolate before you purchase it.
  • If you’re looking to step outside the box this Valentine’s Day, take a look at this green gift guide from Treehugger.com. Set-up as a slideshow, the

    Flickr / ndrfww

    guide highlights gifts that are “useful, thoughtful and – best of all – sustainable”. View the gift guide HERE.

  • We were impressed with this fantastic infographic from Ethical Ocean which outlines the status of fair trade chocolate and its benefit to world producers. View the infographic HERE.

Beyond the Sexy Consequences of Giving Flowers for Valentine’s Day

Flickr / sophiea

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, flower shops across North America are about to buy and sell hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cut flowers.

Are you planning on buying your special someone a bouquet?  Have you considered the consequences?  Many of them will likely be very positive, but there may be other related consequences that you wouldn’t want to share with your loved one.

Pause for a moment and imagine what is happening around the world as a result of Valentine’s Day.  North Americans are on the verge of demanding more long-stem roses than any other time of the year.  In response to this major demand, Latin America flower producers, in countries such as Ecuador and Colombia, are busy as can be cutting flowers and carefully packaging them so they survive the long journey north.  Boats, planes and trucks are gearing up to transport them all safely to your Valentine’s front door with a fairly large carbon footprint.

Sadly, as is the case with other tropical cash crops, such as coffee and chocolate, many flower producers across Latin America are reporting serious human rights violations in their workplace.  Acute pressure on production levels results in increased worker exploitation.  Did you know that the roses you may be buying this year might have been grown, cut and packaged by a woman who is working around the clock without breaks for very little money?

Don’t worry, I am not suggesting you avoid buying flowers for your loved one and try to explain the ethics behind it over a candle light dinner.  There are ethical and beautiful alternatives.

Here are two fairly simple solutions:

a) try to buy locally produced flowers (there are some green houses operating this time of year in North America), or

b) if you buy imported flowers from the south look for those that bear a FairTrade Certified Logo.

This year surprise your Valentine with a beautiful bouquet of flowers as well as a story of how these particular flowers are helping to make the world a better place.  This is sure to win you some extra points this Valentine’s Day!

See related blog entitled: Vancouver Olympics Sources Ethically Produced Flowers for Medal Ceremonies. This blog tells the story of how VANOC has made an effort to source flowers that meet ethical and environmental standards.

Vancouver Olympics Sources Ethically Produced Flowers for Medal Ceremonies

The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) will soon be handing out 1800 ethically sourced bouquets of flowers to champion athletes during the medal ceremonies. At a time when men and women around North America will be buying flowers for Valentine’s Day, VANOC’s story of sourcing flowers from an ethically and environmentally minded company is timely.

VANOC awarded the contract to produce the bouquets for the ceremonies to Just Beginning Flowers, a Surrey-based non-profit social enterprise that sources ethically produced flowers from Ecuador and from local producers in the Fraser Valley. Although there has been some recent criticism about the Olympic bouquets not containing native plant species (see related article below), the owners and operators of Just Beginning Flowers state that the flowers they import from Ecuador are ethically sourced and meet Fair Trade standards.

Through their Buy Smart program, which Reeve helped develop, VANOC has set up protocols to ensure their suppliers are adhering to social and ethical standards. Just Beginning Flowers is considered one of the program’s success stories as they not only source locally and ethically from abroad, but they are also a social enterprise that has developed a training program for students that have barriers to employment. Furthermore, Just Beginning Flowers employs green business practices with the goal of minimizing the impact of their operations on the environment.

Check out the related Vancouver Sun  article which highlights the controversy about the lack of native plant species in the Olympic bouquets. This Valentine’s Day will you buy native plant species or imported flowers from Latin America?

For more detail on the VANOC Buy Smart program check out: Buy Smart Program Designed by Reeve Consulting Receives 2010 Games “Sustainability Star”