At the tender age of sixteen, I received the gift of every young, lovesick girl’s dreams. “He got me flowers!” Yes, they were pink and wrapped with bouncy ribbons. Yes, they were entangled in a cheesy poem (to the girl who knows how to keep it g, will you go with me?).
The fact that consonants should not be used to rhyme with nouns is beside the point; I was filled with sudden validation, because flowers meant romance, right? But why? Other gifts smell just as sweet and aren’t as produced in factories rampant with worker abuse.
Both countries deny workers basic rights and, with a complete lack of unions in Ecuador and corporate restrictions on unions in Colombia, the workers have little recourse. Both Colombian and Ecuadorian workers suffer health problems because of their work, which includes contact with pesticides so toxic that many are banned in the U.S. and Europe. These health problems affect 66% of workers and include headaches, impaired vision, conjunctivitis, rashes, stillbirths, miscarriages, congenital malformations, and respiratory and neurological problems.
In 2006, the U.S. signed a free trade deal with Colombia, stipulating that trade regulations would only be implemented if Colombia instigated improved labor regulations. While Ecuador is tepid on increased rights, Colombia is preparing for its trade deal with the U.S. to go into effect in late 2012. The new agreements will cause the price of flowers to decrease, which could potentially harm the labor standards in Ecuador as they attempt to compete against the cheaper prices. It is currently unclear as to whether Ecuador will follow in Colombia’s footsteps and accept a deal.
What is remarkably clear is the amount of pressure placed on Americans to buy flowers for special occasions and holidays, especially Valentine’s Day. In the United States alone, one in three adults buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, translating roughly to a total of 1.7 billion dollars. The good news? This places consumers in a position of immense power; i.e. you have flower power. The more people start demanding fair dealings in the flower industry, the more the flower industry will respond. So ask yourself (and your someone who “keeps it g”) what is more romantic: labor abuses or labors of love?
This doesn’t mean the end of flowers, sappy notes, or gestures of chivalry. One option is to buy Fair Trade and organic flowers (as well as chocolates and wine). Here are a few companies that provide flowers you can feel good about. Other companies provide eco-friendly Valentine’s Day options (for more click here, too). The judge of the most romantic gesture is up to you, but the next time you buy flowers, make sure you aren’t perpetuating the cycle of flower labor abuses.