The Conscious Consumer’s Guide to Flowers
Valentine’s Day is one of the holidays that inspires mass buying and gifting of flowers. Most of us to don’t think very much about how the flowers we buy in the store are grown, or what kind of journey they made to get to our homes. The Cut-flower business is a billion-dollar industry that unfortunately is not without its share of problems.
The majority of commercial cut flowers, especially roses, are sourced from Columbia (in 2012 the number was 78 percent of flowers imported to the US), followed by Ecuador at 15 percent. Labor rights groups reported that flower workers in these countries are often subject to routine violations of their rights. These include intimidation and illegal firings of workers who have attempted to Unionize for better wages and working conditions. A large percentage of flower workers are female and they report having been victims of sexual harassment or assault. They are also subjected to forced pregnancy tests, or to provide proof of sterilization as a condition for hiring, as employers do not wish to provide paid maternity leave.
Furthermore, occupational health and safety of workers is also an issue, since flower workers are exposed to many toxic pesticides and fungicides. These chemicals have been shown to cause health problems such as skin rashes, respiratory issues, eye problems and miscarriage. A study by the Columbian National Institute of Health found elevated rates of miscarriages, premature births and congenital malformations among flower workers. While child labor has largely been eradicated in Colombia, it is still a problem in Ecuador. Pesticide exposure is especially dangerous for children, who are more severely affected than adults. It is estimated that that as much as 20 percent of the Ecuadorian flower workforce is comprised of children.
In recent years, the Colombian Flower Exporter’s Association (ASOCOLFLORES) spent millions of dollars promoting the “Florverde” label to consumers as a response to public criticisms of labor and environmental abuses. Unfortunately, the “Florverde” proved to be another example of greenwashing, with very little change in conditions for workers.
Flowers that may have been doused with as many as 20 different pesticides and fungicides are not safe or healthy for the home either, as consumers can inhale these chemical residues as well. From an environmental standpoint, supporting companies that use these chemicals means that we are supporting companies who not only disregard the safety of their workers, the chemicals they use poison our air and groundwater for generations to come. Finally, because these flowers must be shipped first from South America to the US and then kept cool in electric refrigerators, the amount of fossil fuel being burned is also costly to our planet’s health.
Thankfully more and more growers in the US are starting to produce flowers that are grown organically. By supporting local flower producers who treat the earth with care, we can put pressure on the big cut-flower industry to adopt more sustainable practices. So this Valentine’s day, choose organic local flowers for your sweetheart. Letting our love for our fellow humans and this amazing planet influence our spending choices is pretty romantic if you ask me. You can purchase organic locally grown flowers at The Great Basin Community Food Co-op, and at the following websites listed below:
4. http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/money/shopping-and legal/shopping/cutflowers.aspx
Written By Lissie Lyles |