Flowers on Valentine's Day? It's a lovely tradition, and I enjoy a gorgeous bouquet as much as anyone. I also do my best to remember — and support — the workers behind the enormous global flower trade.
They are mostly women, many of whom work in Colombia and Ecuador. They toil long hours for low wages, and too often brave exposure to pesticides known to be harmful to their health and the health of their children. They deserve our support.
More than 60% of the flowers imported to the U.S. are produced in Colombia. In Ecuador, the cut-flower industry is the country’s third most valuable export, behind oil and bananas.
A study of the impacts of pesticides on children in flower growing communities of Ecuador showed that exposure to the predominant class of pesticides used — the neurotoxic organophosphate and carbamate pesticides — is associated with poorer neurobehavioral development. The study also suggested that malnourishment may substantially increase vulnerability to neurobehavioral effects of pesticide exposure.
Exposure to harmful pesticides is just one piece of the story. The injustices faced by women workers in the flower sector are well documented in the reports Gendered Injustice from USLEAP (U.S. Labor in the Americas Education Project) and Fairness in Flowers from the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).
How can we help? Annie Leonard shows us a few things in her provocative piece Don't Be Stupid, Cupid: How to Show Your Love Responsibly. Other options include shopping for the Veriflora label that represents a certification system administered by the Scientific Certification Systems.
Veriflora supports fair labor practices by requiring transparency in the flower supply chain from farm to market. Veriflora also promotes integrated pest management and reduced dependence on pesticides, giving consumers assurance that growers are lowering the risk of exposing workers to harmful pesticides.
If you want to go a step further, join us in supporting our long-time PAN colleagues at Cactus Corporation, USLEAP and ILRF as they work alongside Colombian unions to establish an International Flower Workers' Day. Such recognition would shine light on the hundreds of thousands of flower workers who continue to suffer while working in a tremendously profitable industry.
And as you enjoy your flowers today, you can send a message to the Colombian Labor Minister, urging him to crack down on employers in the flower industry who fail to respect worker rights. It's a very powerful way to thank the women whose labor brought you that gorgeous bouquet.