Columbian Flower Worker Dismissed From Job Following U.S.
May 26, 1993
Sibilina Torres, a worker in Colombia's flower industry
for approximately 17 years, toured the United States this spring
as part of a campaign to alert U.S. government, human rights
groups, labor and environmental organizations, (including the
staff of Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center)
and others to the dangerous working and living conditions faced
by those who plant, raise, harvest, and prepare cut flowers for
the international market. Upon her return to Colombia, she
received a notice of termination of employment. Workers' rights
advocates in Colombia and throughout the world express concern
that this was a retaliatory act by Torres' employer of many
years, Floresa S.A.
Torres' presentation to groups throughout the U.S.
earlier this year highlighted serious abuses of workers within
this multimillion-dollar export industry, including low wages,
lack of job security, and many forms of exposure to dangerous
pesticides. When pesticides are sprayed in the large greenhouses
where roses, chrysanthemums, and carnations are grown, workers
report that they remain inside to meet production quotas.
According to the Colombian Human Rights Committee, nearly two
thirds of Colombian flower workers have symptoms of
pesticide-related illnesses, including headaches, nausea, eye and
skin problems. Spontaneous abortions and children with congenital
problems such as limb malformations and retarded growth are
common among flower workers. Many of the pesticides in common use
in Colombia are banned or severely restricted in the U.S. and/or
the European Community due to their high toxicity.
Torres reports that Colombian flower workers,
approximately 80% of whom are women, are commonly dismissed from
employment by the age of 35, without medical care or means of
supporting themselves and their families. What limited
monitoring of workers' health exists, such as blood testing for
impaired cholinesterase, is used by industry to identify and
dismiss workers who may be at risk of illness. Workers do not
generally receive the results of these tests, nor do they receive
In addition to the direct hazards of working with and
around highly toxic pesticides, flower workers and other
residents of rural areas in the flower-producing regions of
Bogota are further exposed through groundwater contamination from
flower-farm runoff. Irrigation for the expanding flower industry
has placed a strain on the water system supplying urban as well
as outlying areas of Bogota, with underground aquifers drying up
and inadequate treatment facilities to process the volume of
water used. Many workers live in structures without running
water, forcing them to dig crude wells to provide water for
drinking, washing, and cooking. The risks to flower-worker
families with young children are compounded by the dangers of
open wells, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation.
The Colombian Human Rights Committee and Colombian
Support Network urge letters, telegrams, and faxes to
officials in the Colombian Ministry of Labor, as well as the
President of Colombia and the director of the Presidential
Council on Human Rights, calling attention to the conditions
facing flower workers and the injustice of firing Sibilina
Torres for her international efforts.
Dr. Rafael Carbonell, Director General, Ministerio de
Trabajo, Calle 20 8-18, Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia. Fax:
Dr. Carlos Vincente de Roux, Consejeria Presidencial para los
Derechos Humanos, Calle 7, 6-54, Santa Fe de Bogota,
Presidente Cesar de Gaviria, Palacio de Nario, Santa Fe de
Bogota, Colombia. Fax: 57-1-286-7434
Letters are also recommended to the administrative
officers of Floresa, S.A. and the Colombian Flower
Association (an industry association):
Dra. Juana Maria Unda, Asocoloflores, Carrera 9 90-53, Santa
Fe de Bogota, Colombia
Fernando Guzman Posada, Gerente Administratativo, A.A.
240477, Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia.
US citizens are also requested to contact their US
Senators and Congressional Representatives, urging support
for Circle of Poison Prevention legislation to prohibit the
export of banned and severely restricted pesticides.
Sources/Contacts: Colombian Support Network, Box 1505,
Madison, WI, USA. Contact: Cecilia Zarate-Laun, phone: (608)
273-4767, fax: (608) 255-6621
Colombian Human Rights Committee, Box 3130, Washington, DC,
USA, 20010. Contact: Charlie Roberts, phone (202) 462-8176,
fax (202) 462-4724.
CHIBCHA, Colombian Human Rights Information Committee, Box
40165, San Francisco, CA. Contact: Natalia Lopez, phone
(415) 282-6914 or Tico Arenas, phone (510) 655-3290.
For more information on pesticide abuses in Colombia, contact
the Pesicide Action Network regional center for Latin
America:RAPALMIRA, Dra. Elsa Nivia, Apartado Aereo 1440,
Palmira (Valle), Colombia.
The Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS) is
a pesticide-related news service posted weekly by the
Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center
(PANNA RC). PANNA RC is located at 116 New Montgomery
Street, #810, San Francisco, CA 94105.Tel: (415) 541-
9140. Fax: (415) 541-9253. To receive a standard
information packet about the Pesticide Action Network
send a short e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org.