Case Study: Blood Flowers
This weekend, Americans will be rushing out to buy millions of flowers for their mothers to make up for all the labor pains, teenage angst, and the lack of phone calls you placed to her over the past year. Usually when ordering flowers online or at the store you'll look for a bouquet with the most color, or a rose with the least amount of thorns, or even a dozen of the best smelling variety.
The last thing on anyone's mind is usually where these flowers are coming from. Most likely, the answer will be South America. In fact, in 2004 Columbia exported $1 billion worth of flowers to countries all throughout the world…that's a lot of @#!@$#@ flowers. 64% of the flowers sold in the US are from Columbia. Flowers are big business in Columbia; the industry employs an estimated 100,000 people who routinely work 15 hour days in order to fulfill huge order from suppliers. Workers are paid minimal wages, and efforts to form unions are informally denied, many times with physical force. Since the industry is such an important facet of the Columbian economy, certification and enforcement of socially responsibly companies is merely a gimmick for the media. Growing operations regularly cut corners that ignore workplace health and safety. Pesticide use, improper ventilation and protection, as well as a whole host of ergonomic dangers have caused many workers in these operations to become permanently maimed and scarred as a result of their hard work. Not only are they affected, but the surrounding water supply is subject to contamination introduced by harmful chemicals and agricultural waste (that is if there is any water supply left…these companies take over the water table in areas which they are operating, taking away the precious resource from surrounding villages and communities). Uncontrolled exposures to pesticides in these fields have been shown to negatively affect workers' bone marrow, liver and in kidneys. The chemicals also cause genetic damage that can result in cancer or birth defects. The War on Want, an organization demanding corporate responsibility, said in a recent report,
…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. 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, which causes pain and muscle weakness in the hand and forearm.
The International Herald Tribune cites a Harvard study that,
…examined 72 children ages 7-8 in a flower-growing region of Ecuador whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy and found they had developmental delays of up to four years on aptitude tests.
"Every time we look, we're finding out these pesticides are more dangerous than we ever thought before and more toxic at lower levels," said Philippe Grandjean, who led the Harvard study published last year.
Because the economic incentive for companies to produce so many flowers is so high many workers experience similar feelings as Esperanza Botina:
"I am always short of money. The supervisors were very harsh. If anyone was sick, they would send you a memorandum or a sanction. Right now I feel like a cripple."
To buy certified flowers that ensure safe and healthy workplaces and communities OrganicStyle.com has a selection of flowers for Mother's Day. Get 20% off when typing GIFT20 in the coupon code box.
Boycotting flowers is not the solution. Columbia, and other flower producing countries, are in desperate need of jobs and an export economy. The key is for receiving nations to formally pass legislation about importing flowers from uncertified workplaces, or informally by creating a market for flowers coming from companies that demonstrate safe and healthy workplaces.