Going into labor
Fair Trade flowers have been all the rage in Europe, and we expect them to be very popular here as well. Reducing chemical usage and encouraging sustainable practices is good for people, good for the planet, and good business.
We serve a very different group of farm workers in flowers, however, which puts a new face on Fair Trade. Flowers are generally grown in hot houses, highly perishable, require post harvest finishing, and sold in large lots. All of which makes them scale and capital intensive, and not grown in the typical small-holder model that applies to coffee and cocoa. Yet flower plantations employ thousands of workers in Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Tanzania. These jobs are a key source of hard currency for many communities, and the workers deserve the same promise of a better life that smallholders do.
The flower business is intensely competitive, which, if you have been reading this blog, you know often leads to a deterioration of working conditions, rights, wages, and opportunities for workers in the developing world. Add the film Maria Full of Grace to your Netflix or Blockbuster queue if you want to see a bit more about the challenges for flower workers.
As in coffee and other crops, the Fair Trade premium is a key mechanism for facilitating community and individual investment. But Fair Trade in worker/plantation situations involves a twist on the smallholder model. Rather than focus on price floors and direct access to ensure better prices, the emphasis is on raising the bar on working conditions, encouraging more sustainable production, and improving worker/management relations. TransFair also works to build demand for Fair Trade products so that the growers can see that better working conditions for their workers is rewarded in the marketplace.
Some other sustainability initiatives focus only on the producer, whether they have three acres or 3,000. This approach often leaves workers behind. Fair Trade is about creating opportunity for real economic participation for those in the developing world who can benefit most. So keep your eyes open, and as always, vote with your wallet.