Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Ugly Side of Flowers

A week ago was what some call Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February, or what I sometimes refer to as: Single’s Awareness Day. In any case, it is a day meant to celebrate love between two individuals and acts of love are displayed through gifts such as flowers, chocolate, jewels, all of which come from “dodgy” industries. Since I’m in Kenya, which is the 4th largest exporter of flowers in the global market, and live very close to some of these flower farms, I’ll share some information about the flower industry that is not apparent in the romantic exchange of flowers. 

In the early 90’s, large scale flower farming was welcomed in Kenya in anticipation that it would help eradicate poverty and provide a large revenue for the government. Unfortunately, the flower industry is a human rights catastrophe and an environmental disaster.

Some of the issues that arise:
-Pesticide vapors that women are subject to in the greenhouses where they work long hours causes them to develop various cancers, skin diseases, neurological diseases, and birth defects
-the lack of transport to and from work makes women vulnerable to rape and frequent muggings,
-The high divorce rate, often because women must work such long hours that they are too tired for their husbands. This is particularly ironic as their line of work is one which other couples use to strengthen their relationships, and it is costing the women theirs,
-Wages are low,
-Sexual harassment is prevalent and promotion occurs if women agree to sexual favors from their bosses,
-Workers lack knowledge of agro-chemical effects and are forced to work in sprayed areas,
-There is poor sanitation on farms, where children are exposed to diseases,
-In one region, water is taken from Lake Naivasha and used for growing flowers and then water along with all the chemical inputs ends up back in the lake, which is where certain groups rely on fishing

These are some of the many problems that exist in Kenya’s flower industry. So who is to blame?
-Employers, no doubt
-Consumers, who knowingly or unknowingly fuel this industry
-the Labor Ministry who should do better and more frequent inspections to make sure that labor laws are being adhered to
-Trade Unions, who are not doing enough to educate workers and sometimes only focus on large scale companies rather than those with 100 or 1000 workers
-The Kenya Flower Council that condones rather than regulates practices

Things you can do:
-Grow your own flowers,
-Support fair trade flower companies
-Put pressure on companies, governments, and pesticide companies
-Educate yourself and others on this human rights and environmental travesty

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