P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network
UK Campaign to Support Colombian Flower Workers
October 31, 1994
Colombian flower workers are paying dearly with their health for the
millions of blossoms they produce each year for export to Britain,
according to an investigative report issued in July 1994, by the United
Kingdom aid agency Christian Aid. The agency is campaigning for flowers
sold in Britain and Ireland to be bought from Colombian flower growers who
protect workersU health and respect their rights.
Christian Aid is asking British importers to buy their flowers from
responsible employers. The agency is also asking that importers support a
verification system with representation from Europe and from Colombian
government, labor, employer and independent bodies to ensure that
companies are adhering to Colombian labor and environmental law and to
international health standards.
According to Christian Aid, pesticide poisoning due to the improper use of
dangerous, and sometimes banned, chemicals, is affecting large numbers of
the 70,000 employees of the flower trade, 80% of whom are women, who work
just outside the Colombian capital of Bogota. Currently, dozens of
pesticides are routinely applied to the flowers during their production
and post harvest to meet the cosmetic standards required for entry into
the European and U.S. markets. Up to 20% of these pesticides according to
the latest available figures, are banned or not registered in the U.K. or
U.S. because of their toxicity.
In 1965, a handful of companies set up shop in Madrid, an agricultural town in
the western savanna of Colombia, and began exporting.. Today there are over
350 companies in the savanna, and the industry is spreading to Cali and
Medellin. In 1994, these companies will produce over 3.5 billion flowers for
exports worth over US$350 million. Colombia is now the worldUs second largest
flower producer, after Holland.
Some companies, particularly larger, well capitalized ones, attempt to
protect workers by giving the sprayers masks, gloves and special suits.
But many flower producers do not. Torn gloves, torn masks, spraying while
women are still in the greenhouse, and no training given to sprayers are
all common complaints. "They send us back into the greenhouse within an
hour of spraying," says one woman quoted in the report, "while the flowers
are still wet. I know itUs a threat to our health."
Fainting, dizziness, nausea and skin irritation are among the acute
symptoms of pesticide-related problems suffered by the Colombian flower
workers. Other effects of acute or prolonged exposure are more grave,
including miscarriages, premature births, hyperactivity of the bronchial
system and respiratory and neurological problems. Doctors in one hospital
in the region report an average of 20 cases per day of chronic
pesticide-related problems and up to five cases of acute poisoning.
The Colombian Ministries of Environment and Health are responsible for
regulating the flower industry, and Colombian law provides for protection of
both communities and workers. However, these regulations are rarely
implemented. Underfunded, understaffed and sometimes indifferent, neither
Ministry has been able to exert substantial control over the flower industry
which is largely self-regulating according to the report. Only two health
inspectors exist for the whole of the savanna, and despite the law making entry
mandatory for government officials, some companies ban access.
Christian Aid has become part of a Europe-wide campaign to press for better and
safer conditions in the flower industry in Colombia; however, the agency is
opposed to a boycott of Colombian flowers because of the irreparable damage it
would do to the economy, to growers and to the workers. Instead, it proposes
actions to raise the standards of the industry, building on the record of those
employers who treat their employees more fairly and strive to protect their
The idea of a fairly-traded flower has already been pioneered in Germany,
where importers and European aid agencies, member of the Europe-wide
campaign on flowers, are discussing how to label such a flower. In
Britain and Ireland, public pressure can help ensure that steps are taken
to protect the health of those who produce the flowers so many enjoy.
Source: Colombian Flowers: The Gift of Love and Poison, Sarah Stewart,
Christian Aid, July 1994; News Release, Christian Aid, July 12, 1994.
Contact: Sarah Stewart, Christian Aid, P.O. Box 100, London SE1 7RT, U.K.;
phone (44-71) 620 4444; fax (44-71) 620 0719; email email@example.com.
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