With the demand for cut flowers reaching its peak this month, my thoughts are with the thousands of workers in the Global South who work hard to ensure that Valentine’s Day can be celebrated in style.
When I visited Fairtrade certified flower farms in Ecuador a few years ago, employees were working overtime to ensure that the rose bushes would have maximum blossoms in time for this critical season. We can be sure that this is the reality on farms all over Ecuador and East Africa, where the majority of roses are grown for import to Canada.
Fairtrade flowers farms operate under the Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour Organizations (HLO). This Standard covers everything from working conditions and wages, to other factors like prohibiting child labour and gender discrimination. While Fairtrade is working towards ensuring a living wage for all farmers and workers, a recent change to the HLO Standard for flower workers saw the implementation of a base wage. This was based on the World Bank definition of income needed to be above the global poverty line, and the benefits for employees have increased as this base wage has been rolled out to all farms over the past couple of years.
At the Mount Meru Flower Farm in Tanzania, this change to the HLO Standard means a base wage for all workers that is 29% higher than the national minimum wage. And almost all employees earn additional income depending on their responsibilities. “I appreciate what Fairtrade has done…The economic situation is still difficult but Fairtrade has certainly helped. On behalf of the workforce, I want to say that we really appreciate the change that Fairtrade has brought about,” said one worker and union member at Mount Meru when asked how the new base wage system had impacted on those employed there.
Employees at Mount Meru and all other Fairtrade flower farms also get to decide how to spend the Fairtrade Premium. This is an additional sum paid by flower importers on top of the purchase price for the benefit of producer communities. Fairtrade International’s most recent Monitoring Report for Fairtrade Flowers (PDF) tells us the majority of the Premium received by flower workers was spent on services for the workers and their families. This includes things like healthcare, housing and education, but also financial or credit services. Training and empowerment of workers is also a significant use of the Premium, along with projects for the wider communities where they live.
This Valentine’s Day, celebrate with Fairtrade roses which are available in single-source bunches, as well as attractive mixed-source bouquets that combine Fairtrade flowers with the best locally-grown cut flowers. Look for them at Sobeys and selected Foodland stores in Ontario, and Choices Markets in BC. Western Canada Sobeys will also offer Fairtrade roses in about 300 stores, as part of their Valentine’s Day promotion. You can also find Fairtrade at a good number of independent florists across the country.
Image shows Mwajuma Ismael grading flowers at Mount Meru. © Didier Gentilhomme