Valentine's Day Consumer Alert #2: Cut Flowers
Responsible Purchases Can Promote Change
In the weeks before Valentine's Day, Calvert's social investment analyst team is taking a closer look at the
social issues surrounding some of our favorite Valentine's gifts: Diamonds, Cut Flowers, and Chocolate. We
hope that these issue briefs will help educate our shareholders and encourage them to take action as responsible
consumers. This week, we provide a special look at cut flowers.
The Issue: Cut Flowers
Who wouldn't be excited to receive a dozen red roses for Valentines Day? Well, you might think twice if those
roses were subject to intense pesticide spraying that compromises the environment and the health of flower
Flower farmers supplying the US market use significant amounts of chemicals and pesticides, due in large part
to strict customs laws that require agricultural imports to be pest-free. And since only edible crops are inspected
for pesticide residues, flower growers often use more chemicals than necessary.1
All this agrochemical use creates significant environmental impacts and puts flower workers at risk.
Environmental Health Perspectives reports that intensive water use by flower farmers contributed to a
significant drop in the water table under the savanna surrounding Bogota, Colombia. In Costa Rica, pesticide
residues are directly discharged into waterways and runoff is allowed to enter important aquifer recharge areas.
Studies also show that up to 127 different chemicals and pesticides have been found inside flower greenhouses,
putting workers -- mostly women working for minimum wage -- at risk of exposure through the skin and by
inhalation.2 Many of the types of chemicals and pesticides used in growing flowers have been shown to cause
cancer, birth defects, and reproductive and nervous system damage.3
Which Parties are Responsible?
Flowers are big business in the United States, representing $20 billion in sales per year.4 The US imports nearly
60 percent of the flowers it sells, mostly from Colombia and Ecuador. Colombia's flower trade has grown to be
second in size only to that of the Netherlands; nearly one of every two cut flowers sold in the United States
originates on the savanna region surrounding Bogota, Colombia.5 Most flower industry workers are employed by
subcontractors, who then negotiate with wholesalers and buyers to sell their flowers, which eventually end up at
US retailers.6 Calvert believes that all parties—from those involved in production to the end consumer— have a
role to play in ensuring safe flower production.
What is the World Doing About Hazardous Flowers?
The environmental and worker's rights issues in the flower industry first came to light in the 1990s when
European environmental and human rights advocacy groups began pressing for better conditions in flower
greenhouses and less intense resource use during the growing cycle. In 1999, Germany launched the Flower
Label Program requiring growers to sign an International Code of Conduct (ICC) for the socially and
environmentally sustainable production of cut flowers.7 Industry responded with voluntary certification
programs, such as Florverde in Colombia and Sello Verde in Ecuador, which require growers to meet standards
based on their country's regulations.8 To date, certification programs have not gained momentum in the US
What Can You Do?
Be a responsible consumer and raise awareness. When you purchase flowers, opt for organic flowers purchased
through retailers such as OrganicBouquet.com or Whole Foods Markets. These retailers ensure that they source
from sustainable flower farms that address the environmental and public health concerns associated with
production. Ask traditional florists and retailers if they have a policy on sourcing flowers from farmers that meet
minimum environmental and worker's rights standards. And lastly, consider shopping at area farmers' markets
for locally grown flowers. These simple actions can help send the message to retailers that consumers
increasingly expect flowers to be produced in an environmentally sustainable manner without risks to workers.
For additional information on this issue, please look at the Fairness in Flowers Campaign
Prepared by Stephanie Cuttler, Social Research Analyst. Ms. Cuttler joined Calvert in 2004 to research product
safety, public health, consumer fraud, and other product-related issues. As the healthcare sector analyst, she
has developed an expertise in healthcare related environmental, social and governance issues as well as
developed social investment guidelines for the sector. Ms. Cuttler also serves as team leader for research client
services. Ms. Cuttler has lectured on Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Investment at the University of
Maryland's Smith School of Business and Georgetown University. She is a graduate of the University of
Michigan's Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, earning her MBA and MS - Environmental Policy in
2002. She has worked in the sustainable development group at Dow Chemical Company and spent four years as
an environmental analyst with the Investor Responsibility Research Center. In her free time, Ms. Cuttler
volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade gift store, and works at FreshFarm Farmers Market.
As of December 30, 2005, Whole Foods Market (WFMI) represented .14% of Calvert Social Index Fund and
.94% of Calvert Large Cap Growth Fund.