When a person gives a bunch of flowers, are they really giving? If it is a birthday, funeral, or treat, you hope those flowers send a message of love, support, and friendship.
On 29 March 2023, at the Garden Museum in London, Fairtrade launched “an event to inspire collaborative action on sustainability in the flower industry” — Ruth Goudy has the details for FCI in the May 2023 edition.
What Fairtrade Flowers set out to do is to extend that compassion throughout the supply chain. Kerrina Thorogood, Partnerships Director at the Fairtrade Foundation, explained that behind each bouquet of flowers is an industry severely affected by climate change and growers, usually women, who may face discrimination, poor wages, and even human rights abuses. It is this dichotomy that Fairtrade wants to set right.
Flower farms are working in environments like never before. They have faced hardship with loss of trade during the pandemic but are also severely affected by climate change.
The area most conducive to flower growing is along the equator and notably lacks water. Add to that the consumer concerns about plastics, waste, carbon footprint and agrochemicals. When farms may be short on funds and are dealing with lower yields, they face a need to pay better wages and require investment to meet environmental concerns.
These are bound to be barriers to entry into Fairtrade certification. As Dr Jill Timms, Co-lead of the Sustainable Flowers Project, stated, “Raising the value of flowers is important”, and throughout the one-day event in London, it became clear that consumers need to be aware that there are consequences of cheap flowers in the UK shops.
Part of the panel discussions was Wenedemeneh Engida, Fairtrade Africa and Gonzaga Mungai, who leads the Fairtrade Flowers Programme at Fairtrade Africa. They explained how much the ‘Fairtrade Premium’ has really helped.
This is an extra payment on top of the usual price of flowers paid by the customer for Fairtrade flowers and passed on directly by the retailer.
The workers have the autonomy to decide how that money is invested in their community, for instance, free medication for employees or schooling for their children. On one occasion, flower farms amalgamated their funds to build a new maternity unit where previously there had been six women to a bed.
Wenedemeneh explained that countries are facing inflation of 40 per cent, and governments are investing massively in the war; even if people have better wages, they cannot always afford to take care of themselves or their families.
Currently, the floor rate of $2.15 per day is reviewed annually, but often this pays for the barest of essentials. The premium can act as a cushion against these economic hardships.
At the moment, there are only 74 Fairtrade Certified flower farms globally. Those farms are principally in Kenya, where there are 47 from more than a total of hundreds of farms. That sector employs 200,000 workers, predominantly women. Further, two million Kenyans are directly impacted by the flower market. Fairtrade seeks to address the conditions in all sectors of Kenya’s economy. Over the past decades, pioneers and visionaries have contributed to advancing Kenya’s flower industry, building schools and hospitals, and providing child care, but at last, there is collaboration to make this more consistent.
In the UK, currently, five major supermarkets stock Fairtrade flowers – Lidl, Asda, M&S, Aldi and the Coop and they were represented on the day. The first florist to use Fairtrade flowers was Lavender Green Flowers. Hazel Gardiner, its florist, content creator, and broadcaster was there to give support and a floristry workshop using the beautiful roses.
Eighty per cent of cut flowers for sale in the UK are imported, so it was good that these parties were involved in the event as well as academics and experts and the day comprised panel discussions and breakout groups in the afternoon to discuss lifecycle assessments, net zero flower value chains and flower transport.”
As for consumers, Thorogood stated that 77 per cent of consumers in the UK have chosen to shop for Fairtrade products. Besides consumer awareness, there are complex issues to be addressed, but there is a wealth of knowledge from other sectors, such as chocolate, wine, and coffee.
Dr Timms said in her Scoping Study Report on the UK Floriculture Sector that “There is an acknowledgement across the supply chain that the future viability of the (flower) sector is at risk if the issues highlighted… are not urgently addressed.”
At the event, she ended on a positive note when she said that often the people who are most concerned about the environment and best understand where the costs come from are the younger generation. There was a sense, from the people in the room, that now was the time to move things forward.
Michael Gidney – CEO of Fairtrade Foundation, concluded, “We need to work together. It is wonderful that we are making progress, but we must address human rights and climate change. I think it starts with the farmer, the grower, the worker. These are all our experts.”
From the floor to the top job
One of the most inspiring parts of the day was meeting Agnes Chebii. She described her life when she began working on a flower farm at 14 and how significant the changes were when that business became Fairtrade certified.
Agnes described how at 14, her mother died and that she had a baby herself. Her grandmother and aunt were helping to look after the baby, and she needed to go out to work to earn a living for herself and her child. The story of how she found a job involved walking over 10km; surviving a dog attack, yet she persisted in persuading someone to give her a job despite being underage and gaining permission from the elders in her village. She described how she was desperate. She may have been a child herself, but she was in a position where she had to drop out of school, and employment was necessary to survive.
Her first job at a flower farm
Since then, she has been on a 23-year journey working on a flower farm. She described how when she first began, she needed to be more trusted to deal with the flowers. She was only allowed to sweep up where other women cut and graded the flowers. As time passed, she was taught to cut the flowers, put them in buckets, and precisely handle the flowers. Flower farming is a setting where women make up most of the workforce. There are places where they can face low pay discrimination and abuse.
Transformation in the workplace
Agnes’ face lit up when she began to talk about Fairtrade and the difference it has made to her life. She explained how the working practices transformed. Before that time, she said there was no PPE, and nobody would care if someone fell. Now there is Health and Safety in place. In the past, people would not have been paid overtime, often worked without lunch, and dealt with sexual harassment. Now there is a floor wage and workers’ rights.
Agnes was enthusiastic about how training is given to the workforce, and she now sees women in leadership positions. She was incredibly excited about how now she sees skilled women electricians working on irrigation and technology. This was something only men were considered able to do in the past. She has now become a senior supervisor and the Chair of the Gender Committee. She is elected by the workers for the workers, and they have the autonomy to manage those forums themselves. If there is gender-based violence on-site, the perpetrator is sacked immediately. When asked how this is enforced, she explained that if this did not happen, the Fairtrade certificate would be taken away immediately.
Since Fairtrade certification, a supply chain was introduced to Karen Roses, and the farm has expanded; as the farm’s Senior Supervisor, Agnes oversees 30 greenhouses between 1ha and 3ha in size. Each has its supervisor and teams of six to 10 people. She described how each person has an area within that space to tend. Over the season, they prepare and clean the bed, zero bends, de-leaf, keep on top of sanitation, fertilisers, and irrigation, remove suckers, re-bend, and harvest. Agnes now has a total of two boys and two girls, all of whom have gone to school, and, thanks to the education afforded by Fairtrade Premium, her first son has become a journalist.
In the past, people would not have been paid overtime, often worked without lunch, and dealt with sexual harassment. Now there is a floor wage and workers’ rights.
Jonny Young from JZ Flowers
Jonny Young is the Ethical/Sustainability Manager at JZ Flowers. They are committed to strong compliance and sourcing the best ethical and sustainable flowers possible. They are part of the Dutch Flower Group, which distributes an average of 75 million flowers and 10 million bouquets weekly to customers worldwide. He explains why Fairtrade is good for the flower industry.
Young said that, while there has previously been lots of work in the food sector, flowers felt like the forgotten sector which needs to be addressed. Covid-19 brought light to the risks in the system. When growers couldn’t export products, it had a terrible impact on workers in some of the most vulnerable areas of the globe. The floral sector needs to better educate consumers on sustainability risks and challenges. It requires the whole supply chain to be involved for this to happen.
At the moment, there are many certification schemes a supplier must meet to supply to UK retailers. The Dutch Flower Group is a founding member of FSI (Floriculture Sustainability Initiative), with Fairtrade forming part of the FSI basket of standards. At the day to discuss ‘flower-powered partnerships with Fairtrade’, many of the big players in the flower market were brought together in one room.
Key areas identified to work on together are carbon footprint, living wage and reducing plastic. Due to the complexity of the issues faced and the competitive nature of flower markets, Young was realistic when he said, “None of these issues can be dealt with on our own.”
Fairtrade Premium and Logo
Fairtrade is unique in its implementation of the Fairtrade Premium. JZ Flowers pay for the cost of the flowers but then spends an additional 10 per cent directly to a Fairtrade premium committee formed by elected workers on the farm.
Young believes that the Fairtrade logo for consumers is important because it is clearly recognisable and trusted. There is a licence fee that must be paid in order to be able to use it. He said that in Fairtrade fortnight JZ Flowers produced an extensive display of clearly marked Fairtrade bouquets for Aldi. However, these were more expensive than other bouquets; they sold really well. He believes that as long as the product is good, people are prepared to pay for it.
Transparency and openness
The Dutch Flower Group has a strong relationship with Herburg Roses in Ethiopia and buys about 100 million stems per annum. JZ Flowers supplies to Aldi, who have invested in a ‘Women’s School of Leadership’ project there. Besides the project’s outcomes, this encourages mutual trust and commitment to work together from grower to retailer. Young explained that this type of project would not have come about without transparency and openness. In the past, growers and suppliers were potentially fearful of being open to risks and challenges due to reputational damage or losing business.
Being involved with Fairtrade and having traceability and transparency makes it easier to find out where things might be going wrong and work together to tackle them.