ILRF's Fairness in Flowers Campaign has promoted the occupational health and safety and the labor rights of workers in the cut flower industries of Colombia and Ecuador since 2003. Most of the roses and carnations produced in these countries are exported to the United States where they are sold in florist shops, supermarkets, and on online retail sites. There are 40,000 flower workers in Ecuador and over 100,000 in Colombia, working to grow, harvest, and package these flowers.
Click here to learn how you can support these workers.
These workers routinely experience a number of labor rights violations, including:
VIOLATIONS OF THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
Workers are prevented from organizing independent unions through tactics such as illegal firings, threats to close plantations where workers are organizing, and black-listing unionists. Third party contracting practices also severely limit freedom of association. The subcontracted workers are shuffled between different companies every few months so that their employers can avoid having to affiliate them with social security; a constantly changing workforce also inhibits serious attempts at organizing. Of the hundreds of flower companies located in Ecuador, only two have unions. And in Colombia, the most important worker organizing effort in years was initially crushed by the country's largest flower owner and exporter, U.S.-based Dole (more information below).
A 2005 study by ILRF and Ecuadorian NGO partners found that over 55% of Ecuadorian flower workers have been the victims of sexual harassment. Many women said that they had been asked out by their bosses or supervisors, who offered to improve their jobs in exchange. Alarmingly, we also learned that 19% of flower workers had been forced to have sex with a coworker or superior and 10% had been sexually attacked.
FORCED PREGNANCY TESTING
About 65% of Colombian flower workers and 50% of Ecuadorian flower workers are women. They are commonly required to take a pregnancy test or show proof of sterilization as a condition for hiring, as employers hope to avoid providing paid maternity leave.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Use of toxic pesticides and fungicides has caused work-related health problems—including skin rashes, respiratory problems, eye problems, and miscarriages—affecting over half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers. An Oxfam report from 2004 reports that Ecuadorian flower companies use more than 30 different pesticides, and an ILO survey found that only 22% of Ecuadorian flower companies trained their workers in the use of chemicals. In Colombia, according to the Victoria International Development Education Association, doctors in flower-producing regions report up to 5 cases of acute poisoning per day, and a study by the Colombian National Institute of Health found an elevated rate of miscarriages, premature births, and congenital malformations among flower workers.
While child labor has been successfully eradicated in Colombian flower plantations in recent years, it remains a problem in Ecuador. Pesticide exposure affects children more severely than adults. An ILO Survey done in 2000, estimated that 20% of the 60,000 Ecuadorian flower workers are children. It is also extremely common for minors, between the ages of 14 and 18, to work in the industry instead of attending school.
Florverde and Asocolflores
The Florverde, or “green” flower label, claiming environmentally and social responsible standards may be most common in your local supermarket or floral shop. The label is an initiative of the Colombian Flower Exporters’ Association, ASOCOLFLORES, an organization that represents companies producing flowers. It began as a response to intense public criticism of the industry's egregious labor and environmental abuses. Click here for a more about the certification programs and Florverde.
Instead of using resources to support flower workers, the Colombian Flower Exporters' Association has spent millions of dollars promoting the “Florverde” label to consumers and the “Colombia: Land of Flowers” public relations campaign. The PR campaign is not motivated by an interest to protect workers, but by an interest to sell flowers to US consumers, promote the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and promote the failed US-funded drug eradication program, Plan Colombia. The program has made false claims about labor conditions in the flower industry. For example, it claims that 14% of workers are unionized, when most of these workers are in undemocratic, company unions. ASOCOLFLORES also fudges its statistics to exclude subcontracted workers who are denied basic labor rights. Click here to write to ASOCOLFLORES.
Click here to view the letter to ASOCOLFLORES from Colombian civil society groups outlining the weaknesses of the Florverde standard.
Dole Foods: A long history of struggle
For years, Dole Foods was the only multinational company that owned flower farms in Colombia. Dole has recently sold its flower operations to the New York based investment group, Sunflower Enterprises Group.
The Dole flower workers faced years of struggle and finally success in forming an independent union. In late 2004, workers founded a new union, Sintrasplendor, at Splendor Flowers; this was the first independent union that had been successfully established in a Dole-owned flower company in Colombia.
When Sintrasplendor received its registration from the Ministry of Social Protection, the company presented a list of objections, asking the Ministry to revoke the registration. Splendor Flowers used various forms of persecution against Sintrasplendor, including threats that union affiliates will be fired; assigning extra work on days when the union has planned assemblies and other activities; and hostility, including via the presence of members of the Armed Forces and police at union activities held off company property. The company successfully convinced the Ministry to revoke the union's registration, but after a lengthy appeal the workers reinstated the union. In late 2008, workers at Sintrasplendor finally claimed victory and ratified a contract with improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions.
Click here to read about more flower workers' victories this year!
Dole used a variety of ploys to deny Sintrasplendor its right to a collective bargaining agreement, such as signing a different collective bargaining agreement with the company-backed union, and refusing to support a fair process to determine union representation at the company. On October 12, 2006, in its final blow against the union, Dole announced that it is closing the Corzo farm at Splendor Flowers.
Cut Flower Workers
Betty Fuentes on the El Corzo Farm in Colombia
Betty Fuentes is a cut flower worker and union leader in Colombia and came to the US to take part in a Wal-Mart speaking tour.
She visited Wal-Mart and was shocked to see the price of the flowers compared to what she makes on her plantation. (Trina Tocco)
Carnations in Colombia
Workers carrying flowers in Ethiopia
Workers packaging flowers in Colombia
Chemical warning notices
Children working in Ethiopia
Compost flower worker in Colombia
Protest in Colombia to support Splendor Flower workers
Flower Workers in Colombia
Workers in Colombia
Ethiopian flower worker
Fumigator in Ecuador
Colombian worker speaking in the US
Campo Elias (flower worker) visits Wal-Mart
Tanzanian flower worker