by Jennifer Shepherd, Flower Supply Chain Manager
Jennifer Shepherd looks at the many benefits Fairtrade flowers have already brought to poor communities.
Fairtrade currently works with around 48,500 flower workers across eight countries, providing vital economic, social and business benefits to entire communities.
In February, I visited Fairtrade-certified flower farms in Kenya to meet their workers and the farm management. It was a humbling experience to talk to them about their work as well as how their lives have changed through Fairtrade.
With Fairtrade, workers enjoy more stable incomes, whilst the Fairtrade Premium (an additional sum of money on top of the price they receive for their product or labour that goes into a communal fund for farmers and workers to use) has over the years generated millions of pounds for community projects to improve healthcare, education and infrastructure.
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But perhaps most importantly, what I observed on my trip, is the improvement in working conditions for flower growers – a key requirement of the rigorous standards farms must comply with to become Fairtrade certified. In an industry that has such a bad reputation in terms of workers' welfare, poor health and safety, and low pay, this is no mean feat.
Caring about the people and the environment
Workers’ rights are intrinsic to Fairtrade’s values, and under Fairtrade terms, farms must follow strict environmental and health and safety standards.
Workers must wear protective clothing when spraying flowers whilst spraying times have been reduced. They also have permanent, written work contracts enabling them to plan and save for their futures, but also giving them the right to annual and sick leave. Staff receive training on their rights and can form collectives or unions to bargain on hours of work and negotiate better wages from management. Uniquely, they can also become directly involved in the planning and implementation of development projects in their communities, deciding how the Fairtrade Premium is spent.
When I visited the flower growing region of Naivasha, I met Julius Kamau. He told me his life had been very different before Simbi Roses, the farm he worked for, achieved its certification in 2009. Fairtrade has brought many benefits at a farm level and for the community. It provided essential infrastructure at the school his daughter attends, such as more desks (there were previously four children to a desk), cemented floors and new latrines.
Thanks to Fairtrade, workers are also entitled to benefits such as maternity leave, school bursaries for children, regular health checks and a credit scheme, all financed with the Fairtrade Premium.
Empowerment through education
In addition to improving primary and secondary school resources, some farms have invested in adult education by providing fully equipped classrooms. In a country where on average 38.5 per cent of the Kenyan adult population is illiterate, being able to read and write transforms lives. Practical courses, such as carpentry, tailoring and ICT skills are particularly popular, because they offer a vital skill set that can lead to further employment as well as personal and professional development.
Nini, a flower farm, provides an example of investing in education on a bigger scale. Ever since its certification in 2013, the group has introduced various education and capacity-building projects to benefit the workers, their children and the community. Through the Fairtrade Premium, around 150 students received help with school fees and continued their education, which is a vital incentive in a country where the rate of school drop-out in rural communities is very worrying. The students supported include both workers' children and those from poorer families.
Over 2014 and 2015, a total of 103 workers took part in various vocational courses to acquire and develop new skills that they could use to earn extra money. Some of the courses included driving, tailoring, hairdressing and computer studies. This year more workers are set to benefit from the adult education programme.
Simultaneously, more job opportunities – eight full-time and permanent posts – were created after a Premium-funded canteen opened to provide subsidised meals for the entire Nini community.
Workers’ welfare and learning opportunities for both adults and children are the right step for building a thriving community. And indeed, the mood prevailing among the group was one of empowerment, and dignity.
So, with more choice than ever before across UK supermarkets and online retailers including Interflora and Moonpig, buying Fairtrade flowers mean you are helping directly the communities who grow them around the globe.