Flower Power

02/08/2008 - 3:23 PM
Where flowers bloom so does hope. - Lady Bird Johnson

The list of retailers selling Fair Trade Certified flowers is growing rapidly as Valentine’s Day approaches. Sam’s Club, 1-800 Flowers, Ukrops, Whole Foods, Organic Bouquet, and Giant Foods are all bringing in Fair Trade flowers (in at least some of their stores) in advance of Valentine’s Day, with many other retailers poised to begin or expand sales before Mother’s Day. Imagine an item that brings happiness as a gift also bringing opportunity to the farmworkers who produced it! I hope you will choose to look for the label this year. Please feel free to take a look at our Fair trade flowers video which was filmed recently in Ecuador.

Our excitement about the launch of Fair Trade Certified flowers – and the growing awareness it has created about sustainability in the flower sector in general – is tempered by the recent events in Kenya. Kenya is a key source of Fair Trade flowers, and has for several years been considered one of the more stable democracies in Africa. Now, it has suddenly picked up a new set of adjectives including ‘crisis’, ‘bloody’, and ‘divided.’

The world is paying attention, and we hope that efforts to reach a political solution are successful before the country further destabilizes. Those at the bottom end of the economic ladder tend to be the hardest hit and most quickly displaced when conflict occurs. How could such a turnabout happen so quickly? In many of the countries where Fair Trade is focused, stable is a relative term. Kenya has few real currency producing industries (primarily tourism, tea, and flowers) , a GDP of only $1600/per capita, an HIV rate of 6% of the adult population, an unemployment rate (before the recent outbreak of violence) of 40%, and an estimated 50% of the population below the poverty line. Many of our other Fair Trade sources in Africa - including Ethiopia, Ghana, and Malawi – share similar statistical profiles. Without hope, economic opportunity, and a chance to work for some of what we consider to be ‘the basics’, instability and social unrest fills the void, and a disputed election can quickly become a potential economic or humanitarian crisis.

The Economist did a piece on the Kenyan flower industry this week. The final quote from an unidentified non Fair Trade grower says it all:
“We're committed privateers, we'll just pick up and move somewhere else in Africa.”

In contrast, the article points to the Oserian farm, which is in the Fair Trade system and how its workers are sticking it out. As the British paper The Guardian reported in an article on Oserian in 2006,

“For years, human rights groups lambasted Kenya's mainly foreign-owned flower companies. Foreign-owned flower companies over low pay, chemical hazards, and the plight of casual workers. Conditions have mostly improved since then and the ethical imperative has also prompted the company to reduce its environmental impact, employing hydroponic farming to cut back on water use and getting three-quarters of its energy from a geothermal spring.

Clearly there are miles to go, but the longest journey begins with a few first steps. Fair Trade is often one of these steps. Those who take it deserve our support.
02/08/2008 - 3:23 PM
02/08/2008 - 3:23 PM