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It probably comes as no surprise that Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year for florists, accounting for over 25% of holiday floral sales.
In a typical year, between 85 and 95 percent of the most common fresh cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from Colombia or Ecuador. California is the top American producer of cut flowers, accounting for about 75% of the domestic share.
Although there are a number of organizations and campaigns aimed at improving conditions for workers in the cut flower industry, health and safety issues remain problematic – especially in South America.
Insufficient wages, sexual harassment, child labor, and excessive exposure to harmful pesticides are the most common and troubling issues in the foreign cut flower market. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) describes these and other common violations under their Fairness in Flowers Campaign, and chronicles the ongoing battle to improve conditions for floral workers.
Pesticide runoff also continues to contaminate the water supply in areas surrounding flower farms. A 2007 study by the Labor Education in the Americas Project (LEAP) found that, in addition to being a human rights issue, pesticide abuse is a significant environmental threat in Colombia and Equador. According to the study, Ecuadorian flower companies use over 30 different pesticides on cut flowers, and 20 percent of the chemicals applied during flower production in Colombia are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe.
What Can You Do?
Consider choosing a more sustainable and environmentally friendly gift for your loved-one this Valentine’s Day. Although flowers have long been regarded as symbols of beauty and romance, the practical truth is that they will fade within a few days.
If you do choose flowers, opt for those grown organically, and under socially responsible conditions. Look for products that have been certified under the Fair Trade or VeriFlora programs.
The Fair Trade program guarantees compliance with rigorous environmental standards, and ensures that workers in developing nations receive fair wages, work under safe conditions, and receive education, childcare, paid maternity leave and vacation.
Similarly, VeriFlora growers and handlers must meet standards related to sustainable crop production, ecosystem protection, fair labor practices, community benefits and product quality.
A number of national retailers are now offering Fair Trade and VeriFlora certified flowers, including:
- FTD – offers a selection of Fair Trade Certified roses
- 1-800 Flowers – offers the Fair Trade Certified Planet Friendly Smile Collection
- One World Flowers – entire selection is Fair Trade
- Organic Bouquet – offers a full line of organic and VeriFlora certified flowers
- California Organic Flowers – certified organic flowers grown in California
Each of these retailers ships at least throughout the continental United States.
Image Source: Wilson Hui/Flickr