60% of the roses sold in the US are grown in Colombia -most the remainder are grown in Ecuador where climate and labor conditions are very similar.
During high seasons, including Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, Colombian flower workers are expected to work 12-16 hour days. Employers pressure workers to produce impossible quotas and threaten workers if they do not achieve them. Many women workers have temporary contracts.
Flower workers are paid the minimum wage of about $215 a month, or $8 a day. Women are the majority labor force.
Workers are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals.
Insecticides, nematicides (nematode poisons) herbicides, fungicides. Many of these substances are applied daily in warm, poorly ventilated greenhouses where high levels of toxic vapors can accumulate and where contact with these pesticide residues is close to impossible to avoid by workers
Many women have reported health problems ranging from headaches, blurred vision, intolerance to light and nausea to more serious problems, such as experiencing still births, sterility and birth to children with abnormalities and defects.
In Colombia flower workers have struggled for years for better working conditions. The first union established (2007) disbanded in 2008 due to constant paramilitary threats to members and leaders. (in Antioquia) Dole Plantation (in Bogotá) accepted a union then within a year (2009) sold their Plantation (buyer not known).
My hearty Valentine's Day recommendations:
- Bake heart-shaped cookies with your lover, children, or friends
- Send a donation to support those working to improve labor conditions on flower plantations.
- Remember Día Internacional de las trabajadoras y trabajadores de flores –that’s International Flower Workers Day, February 14.
- If, like me, you require dazzling flowers in exotic settings in February but find yourself in a frozen region, visit the nearest botanical garden, and wander/sit/meditate in their greenhouse several hours.