What Can You Do to Support Flower Workers?

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Consumers around the world have become increasingly aware of the global flower industries' patterns of labor rights, occupational safety and health, and environmental abuses. People are now asking,
"What can I do to support flower workers around the world?"

Excellent question! Consumers play a crucial role in improving the lives of flower workers as they demand fairly produced flowers and other goods. Consumers can use their buying power to buy fairly produced flowers but buying a "fair" product is not the only solution.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see what actions you can take to support flower workers.

Certifications and "fair and sustainable" labels
Numerous certification and labeling initiatives have emerged to meet the demand for fairly produced flowers. Certification and labeling initiatives that serve to conduct audits on farms claiming higher labor standards for workers have the potential to change conditions on the ground. Check out ILRF's Roadmap to Ethical Product Certification and Standard Setting Initiatives to see what ILRF expects from all standards and labels that claim to be better than the average products on the market.

Some of these initiatives are a step in the right direction, but many labels/certifications need reforms and improvements to be able to adequately enforce those standards. A flower with a "fair" or "sustainable" label may claim excellent standards, but consumers must look closely at the details of each standard and the processes designed to enforce those standards when deciding which flowers to buy. Most certification programs lack two key elements: the requirement that workers are paid a living wage and the requirement that workers have a democratically run, independent worker organization, namely a union, to enforce labor standards on their farms. Read ILRF's roadmap to fair products to learn what certification programs should include to improve the lives of workers.

Veriflora

ILRF has worked with the Veriflora sustainable flower initative to ensure that its' labor standards are strong and comprehensive. The standards' strengths include its ban on pregnancy and HIV testing as a condition of employment and specific adherence to ILO (International Labor Organization) standards on freedom of association, collective bargaining, contract labor and discrimination. The standard also requires that employers in the system work towards paying a wage that is higher than the minimium wage, or industry standard.

Veriflora is also the only labeling flower label that certifies flower farms in the US, particularly in California. Veriflora has a strong environmental component, as well. Scientific Certification Systems contracts with Veriflora to independently audit farms and develop Veriflora's standard.

Florverde
The Florverde label may be most common in your local supermarket or floral shop. The label is an initiative of the Colombian Flower Growers' Association, ASOCOLFLORES, an organization that represents companies producing flowers. The label is part of a costly public relations campaign designed to improve Colombian cut-flower industries' image and promote the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Given the program's lack of independence, the bottom line interests of flower companies are inherently prioritized over the interests of workers and unions. Amongst other weaknesses,the Florverde label does not protect women from pregnancy discrimination and does not respect workers rights to form independent unions. In fact, the Florverde standard is the weakest existing standard on Freedom of Association issues. Click here for in-depth analysis of the weaknesses of the Florverde label or here
to view the latest letter from a number of NGOs and unions to ASOCOLFLORES, outlining the concerns.

Fair Trade
Fair Trade certified products' labor standards are similar to Veriflora's. The Fair Trade standard also specifically provides that women are entitled to 8 paid weeks of maternity leave and protects workers from fumigating (pesticides) for more than 4 hours at a time.

Fair Trade is the only initiative that puts a 12% premium on products to support development and community projects. Fair Trade puts an emphasis on supporting worker cooperatives in all sectors so that workers can decide how the development premium is being used. This has been very effective in sectors that have had history of small producers such as coffee and chocolate.

However, the flower sector (and other products that are becoming fair trade certified) does not have a history of small producers and worker-owned cooperatives, making it more difficult to determine how workers control the development premium. Consumers should note the difference between independent, democratically operated worker-owned cooperatives and "labor cooperatives" that operate as subcontractors. These institutions are often ultimately controlled by large companies and have increasingly been used to replace unions and deny workers' rights to unionize.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance is primarily focused on environmental sustainability. The RA's labor standard is similar to Florverde's standard in that it does not specifically ban pregnancy or HIV testing.

Fair Flowers Fair Plants
The Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP) certification label based out of Holland is the most unique labeling initiative to date, given its multi- stakeholder, participatory approach to standard setting and farm auditing. FFP standards and enforcement is reviewed by a board of civil society leaders from NGOs and trade unions(including ILRF). These groups have direct connections to flower workers so local concerns are closely considered during the standard setting process. Civil society committee members have expertise on labor and environmental issues and ensure that local groups in flower growing regions participate in the FFP farm auditing process as independent "observers".

FFP flowers and plants are not marketed in the US but ILRF encourages US marketed labeling initiatives to adopt the FFP model in order to ensure that civil society has a stake in improving the lives of flower workers, their communities and the environment.


Tell your flower retailer that you care!
Your supermarkets, florists and 1-800-Flowers type services have a great deal of power in the flower supply chain. They often set the prices of the flowers and determine the what flowers consumers demand.
Show that you demand fairly produced, sustainable flowers by writing a letter! Find out where the store supplies it flowers and send the wholesaler a copy of the letter. Find a sample letter here.

Tell Dole to preserve its contracts!
After years of fighting its workers’ independent union,
Dole Fresh Flowers has secretly announced that it will sell all of its Colombia plantations. Tell Dole to let its workers know to be transparent about its’ plantation sales. In your letter, suggest that Dole create an agreement with the new company to
respect workers’ collective bargaining agreement and preserve the union. Tell Dole that its workers and their union want to know what’s going on!

Write to:
Ms. Sue Hagen, Vice President
Dole Food Company, Inc.
One Dole Drive, Westlake Village, CA 91362
Fax: 818-874-4593
E-mail: dole_consumer_center@na.dole.com

Raise awareness about the issues!
Let ILRF, JWJ or US/LEAP know your school or organization is interested in organizing an event to with a flower worker. These organization frequetnly bring workers to the US for speaking tours.

Organize events such as brown-bag lunches on campus or in the office where you can distribute information and raise awareness.

Join the cause on Facebook.
“Become a Grassroots Flower Industry Investigator” to help untangle the complex web that links the plantations to the retailers, so we can all make more educated consumer decisions.

Use holidays such as Valentine’s Day and
Mother’s Day as an opportunity to raise awareness. Use ILRF’s “Flower Worker Lesson Plans” to find a number of ideas.

Contact your Members of Congress!
Encourage them to promote the inclusion of anti-discrimination clauses and enforceable labor rights mechanisms in free trade agreements, to provide better protections for women workers on flower plantations and in other sectors. Tell them to oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreements until the Colombian government makes significant progress in protecting union leaders. Write a letter here.

Plant a Garden!
Learn what goes into producing your food and flowers by planting your own garden.