Among the many things I love about my husband, I appreciate that he patiently puts up with my obsession to shop fair trade. He shares my passion for people and the planet, so it’s not too much of a leap for him. For Mother’s Day yesterday he surprised me with a dozen beautiful red-tipped yellow roses, which to my delight were fair trade roses. He had to go out of his way to Whole Foods to buy them and they do cost more than regular roses (about $19.99 per dozen) but he has learned the hard way not to come home with conventional flowers from “flower sweatshops” in South America. Thanks Steve!
More than half of the flowers sold in the United States, particularly roses and carnations, are grown and processed under not so pretty conditions in South America, especially Colombia and Ecuador. Heavy use of pesticides is rampant, with little or no protective gear for field workers, and the conditions in the processing plants are just as bad. Mainly women work in the plants and they are subject to long hours, low pay and an insecure income as they are hired and laid off at the will of their employers. It is not uncommon for a woman working in Colombia’s flower industry to lose her job when she becomes pregnant, even though maternity leave is supposedly a guaranteed right in that country.
As with all fair trade products, they’re not just good for people but they’re good for the earth. In order to be certified fair trade, flowers have to be grown according to strict environmental standards. They’re not necessarily organic (although many are) but the pesticide and herbicide use is much lower and the most harmful ones are disallowed.
I don’t want to demonize all conventionally grown flowers. Growing your own or buying locally grown flowers is a wonderful way to go and some international flower companies have cleaned up their act as the result of pressure from consumers and governments. But exploitation is still rampant so buying either fair trade certified flowers or domestically grown flowers whenever possible is definitely the best expression of your love.
Have you found fair trade certified flowers or another alternative near you? Let me know about it by leaving a comment here. Hopefully they will become more and more common as demand increases.
Coming tomorrow: Continuing on with two weeks of fair trade product reviews, I’ll tell you about a fair trade soap you can use for literally any cleaning in your house, from washing dishes to brushing your teeth!