Think of your 'flower power' on Valentine's: fair trade groups

As Canadians celebrate Valentine's Day, the country's fair trade groups are asking people to think about where their flowers come from.

Fair trade groups advocate buying products from companies and countries that have proper working conditions and pay fair wages to workers.

The groups have launched campaigns for fair trade clothing, coffee and chocolate and are now pushing for a "fair flower" campaign.

Europeans started their own "fair flower" campaign a decade ago to buy flora produced "under socially and environmentally sustainable conditions."

The campaign began in 1990 in Switzerland, a week before Mother's Day. Flower stands were surrounded with posters depicting poor working conditions and high pesticide use in the Colombian flower industry. Leaflets were handed out summarizing the campaign.

Flower Co-ordination Switzerland, a lobby group, got two of the largest supermarket chains in the country to put place of origin tags on their flowers and to test their flowers for pesticides.

Colombian flower workers paid $2 a day

The campaign grew to include other European countries and culminated in an International Code of Conduct for the Production of Cut Flowers (ICC), which includes:

  • equality of treatment for flower workers
  • living wages,
  • working hours limited to 48 hours a week or less
  • detailed health and safety measures
  • security of employment
  • protection of the environment
  • a ban on child and forced labour

At least 50 farms in Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have joined the ICC.

Fair trade groups want to pressure the Colombian flower growers and exporters association ASOCOLFLORES to sign the ICC.

Colombia is second only to Holland as a flower exporter. Women account for 70 per cent of the workers. They are employed on temporary contracts which are often only verbal.

Two-thirds of Colombia's flower workers suffer health problems associated with pesticide exposure, ranging from nausea to miscarriages.

According to Oxfam, flowers from one day's work will sell in the U.S. and Europe for up to $800. The worker will earn a minimum wage of just under $2 a day.

The concept of "fair flowers" in Canada is still new. It can be hard to find which flowers are grown where and what the conditions are like for workers.