Why Buy Fair Trade Flowers?

Fair Trade Farm Employees

About 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States are grown internationally in Latin America, South America, and Africa. Over 300,000 women are employed by flower producers all over the world. More often than not, they are exploited to keep costs low for American and European consumers. These women are often subjected to sexual abuse, human rights violations, exposure to toxic agrochemicals, and extremely dangerous working conditions. In many cases they are not paid for overtime hours, and are lucky to be paid fairly for regular hours worked. Fair Trade changes all of that!

At One World Flowers, we call Fair Trade a “complete sustainability” program. This is because it goes far beyond environmental sustainability to also include the people and communities that are impacted by floral farms. Fair Trade Certification means farms that grow flowers are given a fair price for their produce, workers enjoy safe working conditions, fair living wages are paid to workers, and environmentally friendly growing practices are used. It is a commitment made by each company in the supply chain to maintain higher standards in our business practices, even if it costs a little more. In short, everyone can benefit from Fair Trade – from the worker in the field, to the company that owns the farm, the environment, and even you! By caring for the people first, Fair Trade ensures that the local environment and the local economy are also protected and built up. The three areas of sustainability ion the Fair Trade program are detailed below.

Social Justice
Fair Trade guarantees that the human rights of floral workers will be protected and upheld at all times. Workers are organized democratically and empowered to report any abuses that may occur after a Farm is certified to an in-country agent. If a report is ever received, a farm is immediately put into a suspended status until the issue can be resolved. Beyond that, the program also provides a long list of social benefits that improve the quality of life for farm employees and their families:

    • Fair Trade Premium
      Importers pay a 10% Fair Trade premium on all purchases from the farms. Workers organize democratically to vote on how to use these funds to improve their quality of life, end poverty, and invest in the local community. On the farms that One World Flowers works with, the premium has been used to fund scholarships for continuing education, provide employees with microloans, for emergency healthcare needs, to build an on-site daycare, and for computer classes for employees.

“For every Fair Trade Certified flower that we sell, a child is able to study here in Ecuador. There are so many children that cannot afford to go to school. For this reason, it’s very important to buy Fair Trade flowers, because our children are our future.” ~ Mariana Esquinato, Vice President of the Workers Committee, Hoja Verde Farm

  • Empowering Women
    Discrimination and sexual harassment are prohibited on Fair Trade Certified farms. Leadership positions must equally represent women, giving women unprecedented access to empowerment in developing nations. New mothers receive 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, and upon return, are given breaks and a quiet place to breastfeed. This is a stark contrast to non-Fair Trade farms where pregnant workers often lose their unborn children to miscarriage because of ultra-high levels of toxicity in their systems from being forced to work in freshly sprayed fields.
  • Healthcare
    Fair Trade Certified farms must provide on-site doctors and regular check-ups for their workers. They also must pay social security for each of their workers. Great care is taken to protect workers if agrochemicals must ever be used. Workers are required to wear complete protective gear to work near chemicals, and reentry times into the greenhouses are strictly followed.

Environmental Protection
A 2009 case study from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization found that over 120 chemicals are used in Ethiopia’s floriculture industry, 15 of which the World Health Organization classifies as carcinogenic. This number is not much higher than what is found in other major floral-producing countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, and Kenya, where local governments often turn a blind eye to the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides that have long been banned in the United States because of their devastating effects on the local ecosystem. When a farm becomes Fair Trade Certified™, a full list of 100 chemicals is immediately banned from use. In addition to the banned chemical list, Fair Trade protects the environment by helping farms develop all-natural growing practices. Farms are encouraged to work toward fully organic growing practices over time.

    • Integrated Pest Management
      Consumers demand flawless flowers, so pest management is crucial on flower farms. Fair Trade farms are taught how to manage pests naturally instead of using chemicals. Examples of this can include preventative measures, spraying plants with natural pheromones that deter bugs, and introducing harmless species of insects, like spiders, to reduce the population of harmful pests.
    • Natural Pesticides
      The fair trade farms that One World Flowers works with use cayenne pepper and chamomile extract as natural pesticides in lieu of chemicals.

Buying a Fair Trade flower guarantees you a better quality flower. The Fair Trade flowers have no strong chemicals that damage the health of workers and customers who buy the flowers.”~ Luz Chancusig, Post Harvest Representative and Secretary of the Joint Body, Jardines Piaveri Farm

  • Ecosystem Integration
    Some Fair Trade Certified™ farms have developed creative and natural ways of integrating with their surrounding ecosystems. One example is farm that have built man-made fish ponds in the middle of flower fields to catch rainwater and farm runoff. Algae species that are grown in the ponds break down any chemical compounds that were used. When the fast-growing algae has done its job, it is used as a rich fertilizer for plant roots instead of chemical fertilizers. Because rainwater is also harvested by these ponds, the farms are contributing to groundwater replenishment and are also able to use it to water their plants and reduce their overall water consumption.

Economic Development
As mentioned before, to be truly sustainable Fair Trade also contributes to the local economy through profitable and healthy business. Unlike a charity that needs constant funding, Fair Trade is a business model that builds up people, communities, and the local environment through sustainable capitalism. Fair Trade farms are paid a fair price from importers like one World Flowers, which means they can pass their profitability on to their employees in many ways:

  • Living Wages
    Workers on Fair Trade farms are paid a living wage, which generally means that a single mother would be able to provide food, shelter, clothing, and basic needs for herself and two children. In 2011, Ecuador’s minimum wage was raised from $218 per month to $240. In contrast, a living wage for the country is estimated at closer to $500.
  • Providing Access to Credit
    Many Fair Trade farms have implemented micro-lending programs that provide small loans to employees who would normally have no access to credit at all. Many of these loans are used to help workers improve their homes, pay for emergencies, or start a small business. These small loans have been shown to be one of the most successful community development tools because workers use them to contribute to the local economy and raise their standard of living. Women on one flower farm took their knowledge of agriculture and started their own home farms growing vegetables to sell at a local market. Others buy chickens and sell eggs, or goats to provide milk for their families. Entrepreneurs like these are enabled by micro-loans to generate additional income for their families and their communities.

So, why buy Fair Trade flowers? It’s a complete sustainability program that takes care of the environment, people, and communities surrounding floral farms in developing nations. It addresses a full range of issues in the floral industry instead of just focusing on one, and provides a solid guarantee of all of its requirements through consistent monitoring and farm follow-up. Every purchase of Fair Trade flowers makes a difference and enables the program to continue to grow and expand, enticing other farms to change their ways and join the Fair Trade movement.

To learn more about Fair Trade and poverty elimination through sustainable business, see the following resources:

Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2013