Workers growing Valentine’s Day flowers face low pay and long hours

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Around Valentine’s Day, Colombia’s flower industry is in full swing to satisfy the high demand from US and European markets. Unfortunately, flower workers do not benefit, as their working and living conditions continue to be precarious.

Colombia is the world’s second largest flower exporter, providing flowers to the US, UK, Japan and many other countries. With an increase in exports by 4.4% in 2014,[1] whilst Colombian flower producers have a reason to celebrate, the situation for their employees has not improved. Colombian flower workers continue to be exposed to systematic labour abuses and are not sufficiently protected against toxic chemicals. Health concerns persist as workers are obliged to work double shifts to meet demand around Valentine’s Day (read more in this Guardian article).

As Thomas Mortensen, Country Manager for Christian Aid explains:

Often they [women workers] work for more than 16 hours a day under a very strict monitoring to keep productivity high, which not only means that they can hardly rest, but also that everything has to be done at incredible speed. As a consequence of the long hours and high productivity, many women suffer from work related health problems, for example permanent damage to the wrists for cutting so many flowers.

In spite of longer working hours, Colombian flower workers (around two thirds of whom are women and often the heads of households [2]) still struggle to live on the breadline. They are only paid the minimum wage, which is not sufficient to cover half of their basic expenses.

It has been increasingly difficult to ensure flower workers in Colombia are given a voice. Anti-unionist policies by companies have led to the stigmatisation and punishment of workers trying to stand up for their fundamental rights. Workers’ rights activities are systematically discouraged and silenced.

Another concern is the issue of taxes. Far-reaching tax exemptions for flower producers have negative consequences for the local communities, depriving them of a crucial source of revenue that could be invested in the social infrastructure. While the booming flower industry can largely evade the payment of taxes, the flower workers do not receive any tax benefits (read more in this statement from our partner Cactus Corporation).

Consumers are asked to consider these concerns when buying flowers for Valentine’s Day. Purchasing fair trade flowers helps to support jobs, families, better working conditions and the health of workers.

More information

Notes

[1] Cactus statement on the International Day of Flower Workers 2015

[2] Cactus, La realidad bajo los invernaderos. Informe sobre la floricultura colombiana, May 2011.