PANNA:Share the Love with Flower Workers



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Share the Love with Flower Workers
February 07, 2006

“Love, truth, and the courage to do what is right should be our own guide posts on this lifelong journey,” wrote civil rights leader Coretta Scott King. The courage to love others drives both romantic relationships and social change. This year on Valentine’s Day, celebrate this spirit in those you love with gifts of hope that support fair and healthy conditions for workers and independent businesses.

Fair trade chocolates and organic flowers send the message that your love inspires you to change the world. Although these gifts may cost a bit more than their conventional counterparts, they offer the priceless gift of creating a society of greater equity, health, and peace — the sort of place you want your friends and family to live in. See below for resources to find fair trade and organic Valentine’s gifts near you.

In contrast, behind the façade of “perfect” conventional roses lies an industry based on labor exploitation and pesticide poisoning of women and children — a jarring disconnect from the noble feelings that drive demand for flowers on Valentine’s Day. The United States imports millions of roses every year from Ecuador , Colombia , and Mexico . Because flowers are nonfood commodities, they are exempt from pesticide testing, allowing flower growers to rely heavily on toxic chemicals that also poison their workers.

s many as 70% of floriculture workers in Ecuador and Colombia are women, and in Ecuador another 20% are children. Young children and infants, whether exposed directly to pesticides in the fields and greenhouses or to residues in the home, are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure. A study of Colombian greenhouses documented the use of 127 different pesticides. The study also showed that mothers exposed to pesticides at work had higher rates of spontaneous abortion (2.2 times) and premature birth (1.9 times) than mothers not occupationally exposed to pesticides. In 2003, a particularly shocking episode of pesticide poisoning in a Colombian greenhouse sent 348 workers to the hospital with acute symptoms including fainting, strong headaches, nausea, swelling, rashes, diarrhea, and sores inside and around the mouth.

Meanwhile, courageous workers organizing for better conditions in the flower industry face retaliation, blacklisting, and endless legal delays in enforcing basic labor laws. Workers at the Rosas del Ecuador flower plantation have been on strike since October 2003 over the payment of wages and benefits. Ecuadorian courts have ruled in favor of the workers several times, yet the owner continues to postpone paying the agreed settlement. In hopes of recovering over two years of back wages, 52 families of workers are legally occupying the plantation. Lead by 39 year-old Olga Tutillo, a mother of five who has worked in the flower industry since she was 16, these families’ protracted struggle inspires flower workers across Ecuador. Act Now and support the workers of Rosas del Ecuador by demanding action from Ecuadorian authorities to resolve their case.

Showing solidarity with union organizers and supporting organic, fair trade producers simultaneously creates opportunity for more dignified livelihoods on both fronts. While certified fair trade flowers are not yet available, buying chocolate with the fair trade label guarantees higher incomes to cooperatives of independent cacao farmers around the world. Meanwhile, look for the organic label on both flowers and chocolates. The following resources make it easy to find beautiful and responsible Valentine’s gifts:

  • Organic Bouquet offers delivery of organic flowers and chocolates. If you place your orders through the Pesticide Action Network North America site, a percentage of the proceeds will support our work.
  • Some independent farms and farmers markets offer fresh organic flowers year-round. Local Harvest lists over 1,500 sources of organic flowers in the United States, and allows you to search for the ones nearest you.
  • TransFair USA allows you to search for stores near you that sell fair trade chocolate.
  • New American Dream lists companies that sell both certified fair trade and organic chocolate.
  • The human rights organization Global Exchange offers fair trade chocolate and other Valentine’s gifts in stores and online.



  • Restrepo, M., Munoz N., Day N.E. et al . 1990. In Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health , 16:232-238.
  • Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 110, Number 5, May 2002 . Special issue focusing on pesticides in the flower industry.
  • Scott King, Coretta. 1984. The Words of Martin Luther King Jr . New York : Newmarket Press.
  • For information on identifying cases of pesticide poisoning, and on reporting incidences in the United States see

Contact: PANNA

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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