FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bringing You Mother’s Day for $50 a Week

by EVE BACHRACH

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:
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail