FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bringing You Mother’s Day for $50 a Week

This weekend millions of shoppers will show their seasonal devotion to mom with the gift of a bouquet. But in Colombia, where nearly 2/3 of our flowers are grown, 10 years of mostly cosmetic improvements in the cut flowers industry have left workers as vulnerable as ever.

New research from War on Want shows employees in Colombia preparing cut flowers for export face poverty wages, health problems such as repetitive strain injuries and risk miscarriages through exposure to pesticides. While the report looks specifically at the influence of British supermarkets, American markets play an even bigger role. In 2004 we bought $385 million worth of flowers from Colombia.

A certification body set up by the Colombian flower exporters association, Florverde (Green Flowers), claims its approved farms are the most ethical suppliers in their treatment for workers and the environment. But employees on these farms complain about their pay, health, job insecurity, working time–up to 15 hours a day–and firms’ anti-union hostility. According to our research, these workers–mostly single mothers–earn about $50 a week, less than half a living wage.

International health standards are also disregarded on Florverde farms. The World Health Organisation recommends at least 24 hours between the time flowers are sprayed with pesticides to preserve their beauty and when employees re-enter the area. As American buyers press for completed orders, however, many workers are told to enter greenhouses to cut the flowers without protective clothing right after fumigation. Colombian women, forced to breathe in toxic chemicals, have above-average rates of miscarriages and children born with birth defects. Exposure to pesticides often results in fainting spells, chronic asthma, eye and breathing troubles, skin complaints, allergies and headaches. Employees report that if accidents occur or workers get sick, they are often fired without compensation.

At one Florverde-standard farm, when mother of four Esperanza Botina asked to see a doctor about her repetitive strain injury, the company refused and instead demanded that she work extra hours. Esperanza declined and was sacked without compensation–a common fate for workers who fall ill. Now, with severe arm pain, she cannot work and struggles to care for her family.

Esperanza says: “I am always short of money. The supervisors were very harsh. If anyone was sick, they would give them a sanction.”

Claudia Lucia Quevedo is a pregnant single mother with two small daughters. She is owed back pay from another Florverde-approved farm whose rich owners suddenly filed for bankruptcy.

Claudia says: “What worries me the most is that I won’t have health insurance by the time the baby is born. And with so many diseases, I don’t know whether he will be healthy.”

While Florverde’s standards are meant to ensure environmentally-friendly practices and safe working conditions, War on Want found the mark gives no such guarantee. On Florverde farms, 36% of the toxic chemicals used were considered to be “extremely” or “highly” toxic by the World Health Organisation.

Besides exposure to toxic chemicals, flower workers are at high risk of repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain and muscle weakness in the hand and forearm. And though Colombia’s cut flower industry employs less than one in 100 Colombians, flower workers account for one in three cases of carpal tunnel syndrome.

A boycott is not the answer. Flower workers in Colombia need jobs, but they need jobs that are not hazardous to their health. The United States, as Colombia’s biggest flower market, can and must bring its enormous pressure on the industry.

War on Want’s report, Growing Pains, and filmed interviews with Colombian flower workers are available at www.waronwant.org/cutflowers.

EVE BACHRACH lives in London, where she works for War on Want. She can be reached at: EBachrach@waronwant.org

 

 

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail