Talking Points about the flower industry in Colombia
These are talking points you can use for your letter to the editor or communications to members of Congress:
1) Women make up 65% of workers in the flower sector, almost a third are single mothers. They generally earn 14% less than men for the same work, and more commonly receive seasonal, contractual work than men.
2) Generally, flower workers earn the minimum wage or slightly more, approximately $215 US per month, but it is not enough to cover families' basic monthly expenses. While a day's work pays flower workers approximately $2 US or less per day, the flowers picked by a worker in one day will sell for between $600 and $800 US retail.
3) Women are relegated to lower paid, temporary positions, while men are trained in more technical skills and contracted on a permanent basis. Temporary workers lose key benefits like insurance and social security, can be fired without cause, and are unable to form unions.
4) Workers are prevented from organizing independent unions through tactics such as illegal firings, sub-contracting, and blacklisting.
5) Women applying for a job have often been illegally forced to take a mandatory pregnancy test. Workers who become pregnant are often dismissed. Industry working standards have not changed much, and have even declined with the passing of pro-corporate legislation.
6) Retailers are under pressure to provide consumers with a cheap and quality product, and to provide their shareholders with high returns. As a result, suppliers are pressured to ensure perfect flowers at high output levels and employ cheap labor to cut costs. The worst of this downward pressure falls on the flower workers and their families.
7) During high seasons, including Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, workers are expected to work 12-16 hour days. Employers pressure workers to produce impossible quotas and threaten workers if they do not achieve them.
8) Flower workers are exposed to high levels of toxic pesticides and fungicides. Pesticides are sometimes sprayed while workers are on the job, directly on to their bodies. Women flower workers have higher rates of birth defects, miscarriage, and sterilization.
9) The U.S. has a trade program, the Andean Trade Partnership and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), with Colombia that encourages the export of flowers from Colombia to the U.S. by providing duty-free trade benefits. In exchange, Colombia is required to take steps to provide internationally-recognized worker rights. Colombia has not done so. This trade program will be replaced by the Colombia Free Trage Agreement, passed by Congress in October 2011, when the agreement is implemented, probably sometime in late 2012.
For more information check out USLEAP's Flower Resource page.