Background Information: Flower Workers

(This summary was prepared with the International Labor Rights Forum in 2008.)

Industry Overview: Colombia and Ecuador Dominate U.S. Flower Market

  • Colombia is the largest flower exporter to the U.S., followed by Ecuador.
  • Approximately 60% of all flowers sold in the U.S. come from Colombia.
  • A third of Ecuador's yearly production is exported to the U.S. for Valentine's Day.

Working Conditions: Poverty Wages, Long Hours, Unhealthy Conditions, Sexual Harassment Afflict Workers

  • workers earn poverty-level wages, making less than half of what is needed to meet basic needs
  • 55% of women workers in Ecuador's flower plantations have been the victims of some form of sexual harassment in the workplace
  • 66% of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from work-related health problems.
  • pesticide abuse is rampant; flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations, and miscarriages
  • 70-80 hour work weeks are common in the high season.

Core Worker Rights Denied

  • Core worker rights are not respected.
  • No new unions have been formed in Ecuador in years and no independent unions have been able to win a collective bargaining agreement in Colombia's flower sector.
  • The most important worker organizing effort in the Colombian flower sector in years was crushed in 2006 and 2007 at the Splendor plantation by the country's largest flower owner and exporter, U.S.-based Dole.

U.S. Trade Programs Benefit Colombia's and Ecuador's Flower Sector

  • Over 95% of Colombia and Ecuador's flower exports enter the U.S. duty-free under a U.S. trade program for Andean countries.  [Note: In May 2012, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement replaced the Andean trade program and made duty-free treatment permanent for Colombia's flower exports to the U.S.]
  • Flowers are one of the biggest recipients of Andean trade benefits, outside of petroleum.
  • By U.S. law, Andean trade benefits require qualifying countries to take steps on worker rights.
This short video, from War on Want, gives a good overview of working conditions in the flower industry: