For several years, TransFair USA's ambition has been to see Fair Trade principals benefit a larger pool of farmers and farm workers, both by expanding the amount of Fair Trade coffee sold in the US, and by opening markets for new Fair Trade Certified crops. While there are some similarities, each crop and growing origin brings its own set of attributes, grower challenges and needs.
As we lay the groundwork with our retail and importer partners for the launch of Fair Trade flowers this year, we have made several trips to Ecuador and Colombia, both to introduce trading partners to growers, and to immerse ourselves in the mechanics of Fair Trade flowers.
Flowers are traditionally bought for women -- and surprisingly -- by women. Even more surprising, as many of my touring colleagues can attest to, is the large role that women play in the production of cut flowers in the global South. Women make up the majority of workers in the industry. How appropriate that a product bought by and for women can also help empower women to create better lives for themselves through Fair Trade!
At Fair Trade Certified farms such as Jardines Paivieri and Agrogana in the Cotopaxi region of Ecuador, chemical usage guidelines, sustainable land practices, worker committee rights, employment protocols, and working conditions are strictly monitored to meet Fair Trade criteria. Additionally, women are given the opportunity to grow into management positions, and sheltered from the harassment that is common to the industry.
Elsa Vasquez, an employee at Agrogana, told TransFair’s Sean Garrison that:
"In other farms without Fair Trade certification, the bosses abuse the female workers, both physical and verbal abuse. Here they have much respect for us. The boss does not stand over us controlling everything we do, they trust we will do our work."
Pila Rocha of Jardines Paivieri commented:
"One feels much better seeing that women are in positions of leadership in our farm. Women here can achieve as much as men. The women here see us as role models."
Pila also commented on the value of social premiums in allowing workers on the farm to diversify income and create other options for their livelihoods:
"Almost all the flower workers here have benefited from the lending program. This program is important to us because our dream is to one day open our own businesses."
Perhaps the best evidence of the effectiveness and improved conditions on Fair Trade farms is the turnover rate. Worker turnover rate at Jardines Paiveri is 4% per year and 12% annually at Agrogana, while the turnover rate at neighboring non-Fair-Trade farms is as high as 20% per month. Good business practices can also be good business.
Many in Cotopaxi live in poverty, and few employment options outside of the flower industry exist. Through Fair Trade, we see high potential for the flower industry to serve as a positive force in grower communities, bringing work to women, more income to families and greater empowerment. By buying Fair Trade flowers, we can bring joy into our own lives, and the lives of the women behind the flowers as well.