Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Just Way to Celebrate Mother's Day

By Alaina Paradise

Mother’s Day accounts for 25% of the sales of the entire U.S. floral industry each year. One of the greatest ironies of the holiday is the mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of mothers and other female workers on floral farms around the globe.

These ladies are often subjected to sexual harassment, cheated out of wages, and forced to work in dangerous fumigated areas without proper protection - hardly the gift that many intend to give when they hand a bunch of roses to their smiling mom. This year, Fair Trade Certified™ flowers are the new option for socially-conscious shoppers who want to give Mom a gift that truly gives back.

The Fair Trade program is slowly making a drastic impact in the lives of many floral workers and their families in countries like Ecuador, Colombia, and Kenya. About 90% of these workers are female, and many are mothers themselves.

A great example of the positive change is seen in Ecuador where the minimum wage is the equivalent of around $166 per month, or $0.95 per hour according to the U.S. Department of State. Wages are even lower for the average floral worker in a non-Fair Trade business in Ecuador. They make $90 per month if they are lucky.

The Fair Trade program for Ecuadoran floral farms puts an end to this disparity by providing not just minimum wage, but a living wage to workers on Certified farms.

Women who work on these farms are now able to support themselves and their families, which means better nutrition, access to higher education, improved living conditions and greater equality for women in the home.

Fair Trade flowers are new to the U.S. market, and the largest companies in the floral industry have done little to promote their availability. One World Flowers is a start-up company based in Albuquerque, N.M., that is completely dedicated to selling 100% Fair Trade flowers. The company is a licensed by TransFair USA as an official importer of Fair Trade Certified™ flowers and it acts as a wholesaler to many co-op markets, grocery stores, and florists around the country. As part of the company’s commitment to fair trade, 10% of the purchase price of the flowers is donated back to a workers’ fund each quarter.

Farm employees organize democratically to vote on ways to use the funds for community improvement, micro-lending, or education. Fair Trade farms also provide on-site doctors and healthcare for employees, 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, and year-round working agreements to prevent seasonal layoffs.

With such incredible benefits it is hard to imagine that Fair Trade flowers are not offered by more places. There is confusion among consumers about other flower labels such as Veriflora and FlorVerde. These are primarily environmental protection programs that do not have the same social and human rights protections that are offered by Fair Trade. Florists and grocers around the nation often don’t make the distinction between these programs and Fair Trade, which also includes strict environmental protection standards. They are therefore unlikely to pay the extra cost for offering Fair Trade flowers to customers.

Growth has been slow but steady,” says Joie King of One World Flowers, “we really work hard to educate consumers around the big holidays about the social and economic impacts of Fair Trade in addition to its environmental sustainability standards. Our goal is to make the biggest impact we can for the ladies on Fair Trade farms.”

As surrounding farms see the success of the Fair Trade program, the hope is that more will seek to change their policies and go through the rigorous certification process.

Before giving mom a bunch of roses for Mother’s Day this year, consider the source and the moms who grew them. It’s worth the extra few dollars per bouquet to ensure that the women who grew the roses were paid and treated fairly.
Be sure to look for the Fair Trade label on the bouquet wrapper or individual stems to ensure that what you’re really getting are Fair Trade flowers. If you can’t find them, ask your local florist or cooperative market to start carrying them. Where to buy

The difference is peace of mind for moms worldwide who no longer have to struggle to feed their children or provide a safe home. Take it from Silvia Mariana Cualchi Rojas, a Fair Trade floral worker who said, "When I separated from my husband, my son and I had no place to go. Without my husband, I couldn’t qualify for a bank loan. [The farm’s] Housing Maintenance Program put a roof over our heads and pride in our hearts."

It’s amazing what the right gift for one can do for others!

The author is president of One World Flowers

Read earlier blog post about her business

(Editor's note: And if you decide to buy your Mother's Day bouquets from One World Flowers, please remember that orders are due by April 24)

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