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The Cost of Valentine's Day Flowers

Most of you have a good idea of what The Butterbean Legacy is all about. Recipes, DIYs, family fun and advice, natural living, gardening- I cover it all. A simpler and healthier lifestyle. It's not just my motto here, it really is how I live every day with my family.


Today, however, I feel a need to deviate slightly from that and address something very important to me. That is human rights. Every person in this world deserves to live and work in a place where they are treated fairly, paid a fair wage for their work and time, and feel safe. Sadly, for millions of people all around the globe, that is not how their life looks.


I recognize that this post won't match my typical content here on the blog, but I feel that human rights violations need to be openly discussed every day, everywhere, and without apology. I hope you'll join me in my mission to raise awareness for those without a voice.


 

Millions of people around the world send and receive gifts of cut flowers each day. The business really ramps up this time of year- after all, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. In fact, Valentine’s Day is the number one holiday for florists and floral sales. Roses are widely considered the flower of love and over 250 million roses alone are produced for the day’s demand. Roses account for eighty-four percent of the flowers sold each year. But February in the United States is not rose-growing season, so where are they coming from? What is the true cost of our Valentine’s flowers?


Where do our flowers come from and why?

Most of the roses sold in the United States (62 percent) are imported from Colombia. Colombia’s regular rainfall and temperate climate make the area ideal for growing flowers. They are also close to the equator and enjoy long daylight hours. This provides optimum growing conditions for flowers and allows the US demand for flowers during non-growing seasons to be met.


The Andean Trade Preference Act of 1991 grants tariff preferences to legitimate businesses and encourages them to flourish. The 2012 US-Colombian Trade Promotion Agreement allows most Colombian goods to be imported duty-free. These things together result in lower-priced flowers, particularly roses, being imported into the US from Colombia, thus they are sold to consumers at more affordable prices. Colombia’s large market share of flower exports results in an estimated $1.5 billion annual revenue.

All this sounds great, what’s the problem?

With such a large market share and high annual revenue, you would think that Colombia would be the ideal place to work in the floral industry, but the women who work in the fields tell a much darker story. Their stories should make us all think hard about spending our hard-earned money to support an abusive industry.


Women make up roughly sixty-five percent of the nearly 100,000-person workforce of Colombia’s floral industry. These women are working to support their families (they are the heads of their households) and they depend on their jobs. Sadly, this opens them up to labor exploitation. Farm owners know that the women are desperate to keep their jobs and will work through the mistreatment. They are required to work very long hours for little pay. On average, women make $8/day and are expected to cut 350 flowers per hour. The women cannot live and support a family on these wages. In addition, major US holidays like Valentine’s Day increase the length of workdays long into the night but pay does not increase.

Other abuses women face:


Pesticide exposure is another serious concern for women working in the flower fields. Most of us know that pesticides are widely used in the agricultural industry and that they can have nasty effects on people exposed to them, especially those exposed over a prolonged period of time. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) says workers should not report back to fields until 24 hours after pesticides are sprayed. This policy is not followed.


In fact, the workers are not even removed from fields before they are treated. When pesticides are sprayed workers have nowhere to hide. This causes workers to be unnecessarily exposed to toxins at dangerously high levels. Some of the reported side effects include nausea and neurological problems. Some women have even reported suffering miscarriages. When the levels of toxins build up beyond what our bodies can handle or expel, they can have devastating consequences.


Other injuries that have been reported include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and tendon-related injuries resulting from repetitive movements associated with picking and trimming stems. Such injuries could be minimized if jobs were rotated, but this does not happen. As long as production is being met that is simply all that matters.

What Can We Do?

We can help combat this injustice in several different ways:


  • We can buy locally grown flowers. Many areas have small flower farms where you can purchase locally grown options. Lots of these farms even have greenhouses, so flowers can be grown and available in the off-season.


  • Check labels on pre-made bouquets bought in stores for the country of origin and avoid Colombian flowers.


  • If you are using a florist, ask them where their flowers come from, and request American-grown flowers.


  • Be more flexible with the types of flowers in your bouquets. Does it have to be roses? Don’t all gifts of cut flowers convey the same meaning of love and adoration?


  • Lastly, share this information. Communication is a powerful tool. If more people were aware of the working conditions Colombian floral workers are subjected to, we could make a difference.



 

I love my cut flowers as much as the next lady. I like getting them as a thoughtful gift and I like having their colors grace my table year-round. I’m not on an anti-Valentine’s Day tirade here, nor am I against gifts of cut flowers. However, I believe that no one in the world should have to suffer for anyone else to enjoy those flowers. With more ethical options available, we have the power to choose not to support an industry that mistreats and abuses its workers. When the demand goes away, there is no supply, and Colombian farm owners will be forced to make changes. Together we can help change the world. Will you be a part of the change?

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