As you know, today is Valentine’s Day, a special day where we share lots of love, laughs and gifts with our loved ones or friends. This day has undeniably become a billion dollar industry for love celebration, and flower offering is one of the most appreciated gestures – only in the U.S., an estimated number of 244 million roses were sold specifically for this day. These astonishing numbers made me smile, while thinking: “how many women should be smiling and hugging their loved ones today? How amazing is the power of a flower! It’s like magic!”
Well, it’s not. For the smile of millions of women around the world, there are hundreds of other who are suffering every day, in flower fields, struggling with alarming working conditions, while being prevented from spending quality time with their children.
Right after Hollande, Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of flowers and it’s the only industry in the country dominated by female workers, corresponding to 65% of the workforce on the flower fields. Women are frequently exposed to dangerous chemicals – 2/3 of Colombia’s flower-workers suffer from problems associated with pesticide exposure, ranging from nausea to miscarriages; they also suffer from heavy workloads which result in repetitive stress injuries, and are frequently victims of various forms of sexual harassment. Research done by an Ecuadorian NGO show that over 55% of women flower workers had experienced some form of sexual violence. It also unveiled a staggering 19% of women who had been forced to have sex with a coworker or superior and 10% had been sexually attacked. In the interest of keeping their jobs, by fear of losing their jobs or ending their marital relations, they try to ignore it. And you may ask: why in the flower fields? Because they are totally unprotected – cultivation areas promote a solitary environment and long working hours that extend late into the night encourage these type of behaviors.
Yes, long working hours. LONG working hours. During the high season, workers report working 14 or 15-hours a day. Most of the times, they usually wake up at 3 a.m., in an attempt to drop their kids at school and catch the bus that will them to the field (sometimes one or two hours away from home). They start working around 6 a.m. and often stay until 10 or 11 p.m. At the end of the day, the workers return home, and do all the domestic work. Not rarely, they are mothers of +3 children and if it was not for their little daughters, they would hardly get any support.
In terms of salary, they generally earn Colombia’s minimum wage, which is approximately $7 a day, when the daily living expenses account for around $15. That’s true: these women do not earn enough to face their expenses. In fact, they earn 45% less than their estimated basic living expenses, which contrasts dramatically with the retail value of the flowers that only one woman picks daily – $600 to $800. To facilitate the numbers: if you would buy 3 roses on Valentine’s day, you would cover the price a woman is payed on the field.
But we can stop it. No, we will not invade flower fields and get them out of there. Only if it was that easy! We can start by raising awareness, by sharing this reality with our family, our friends and within our social networks. Also, watch videos, read testemonials, stay informed!
Empowering women is also thinking before acting. It all starts with us. And I don’t mean we should stop buying flowers. But before buying a 12-flower bouquet, we can opt for a 6-flower one. Or purchase/read about fair-trade flowers, in which (at least) workers are payed fairly. Let me give you some hints:
United States (stores):
– FTD Flowers
– One World Flowers
Europe (since it is so big, I’ll give you a website where you can read about it):
Have a great weekend and, remember, by reading this post and watching the video, you are already helping!