The power of flowers: first Fairtrade flower forum to discuss future sustainability

Grace Odhiambo Otieno - flower worker in Kenya

At a sector first event held ahead of the 25th anniversary of the iconic FAIRTRADE Mark, the Fairtrade Foundation warned the British flower market faces significant future sustainability challenges.

The Foundation revealed the challenging reality in sustainable flower production, and welcomed experts from the sector to discuss how to implement measures to protect the livelihoods of thousands of people for the future. 

Opening the event at Petersham Nurseries on 9th September, Mike Gidney, CEO at the Fairtrade Foundation said; ‘More than 57,000 workers are supported by Fairtrade on flower farms across 64 producer organisations. Nine out of ten people in the UK recognise the FAIRTRADE Mark, which is celebrating its 25th year this October. Yet despite huge leaps forward since Fairtrade started working with the first flower farms in 2006, there remain challenges in the sector, and thousands more people are still experiencing shocking exploitation, low wages, unsafe working conditions and dangerous manual labour.

‘As we look to the future, we must consider how we can protect, strengthen and improve this industry, both for the people working hard to grow our flowers and the environments they are working in. We want to ensure sustainability at each stage, from the growth of the stems to the sourcing of different flowers, both locally and at scale, to the sale of beautiful bouquets online and in stores around the country. Fairtrade is well placed to lead the change’

Throughout the day attendees, who included representatives from business, retailers, farmers, consumers and policy makers, heard from the Co-op, RHS, flower worker Grace Odhiambo Otieno, Flamingo, Arena, McQueens Flowers plus the latest data from Globescan. 

Grace Odhiambo Otieno was born in Siaya County in Kenya and moved to the Naivasha region to work for Flamingo Horticulture. She said; ‘Being a general worker I did not have financial and project management skills. Through the Fairtrade Premium I was trained together with my colleagues in the Fairtrade premium committee and I improved my leadership, project management and financial management skills. I was empowered and was able to take control of my own life. I am currently managing three hectares of roses and a team of 24 employees and am proud of myself thanks to Fairtrade. Fairtrade has no equal.’

The British flower market is worth £1.4 billion and Fairtrade flowers are sold in 17 different countries around the world.  An overwhelming majority (94%) of these flowers are grown in Africa & the Middle East [1] where millions of people rely on growing flowers for their livelihoods and the sector has become a huge part of economic development. As a result of rapid expansion corners can be cut, people can face misconduct, poor health and safety conditions and unsustainable incomes. 

Fairtrade has introduced a minimum floor wage to protect farmers working on Fairtrade flower farms, and standards set out improved regulations and decent working conditions, ways to support women’s empowerment, and community development. In addition, Fairtrade offers an additional sum of money, which goes to support community projects and investment. In 2018, €6.7 million of Fairtrade Premium was generated [2], nearly a third of this goes towards education services for workers and their families. 

Isobel Anstey, flower buyer from Co-op said; ‘Fairtrade guarantees growers in developing countries a better life and a brighter future and we will continually look for ways and areas that we can develop to help make positive impact and life changes for these farmers. We were delighted to commit to and be the first retailer to source 100% Fairtrade African roses. This means that any roses from Africa, used in either single or mixed bouquets, are Fairtrade, meaning over 35 million Fairtrade roses are sourced for Co-op from Africa each year. Having seen the difference Fairtrade makes on a flower farm I have made it my personal mission to buy more Fairtrade flowers (for the Coop).’

John Hackett, Managing Director at Arena Flowers said; ‘When you buy quite a lot of stems, you get to know the difference between well-run farms and those that might not take things quite as seriously as we do. We know that the way our flowers are produced is as important as the quality of the flowers we buy, so we take great care to check both aspects of our sourcing throughout the year. Sustainability is about authenticity [and] either it’s something you do, or something you play at. And if you play at it, people will know.’

Arena announce their move to 100% roses this year. 

Richard Eagleton from McQueens, the internationally renowned luxury floral design brand, built on the sentiment, stressing the role of big retailers and key figures in the industry to lead by example, saying ‘it’s about how we behave when our customers aren’t looking, size does matter; it comes with responsibility. We’re big enough to make a difference.’

According to research from Globescan, 48% of people would buy a product with a Fairtrade Mark over the same non-labelled product, an all-time high [3]. 

Abbie Curtis O’Reilley, Associate Director at GlobeScan, said; ‘interest in serious issues is trending upwards, most people would like to prioritise sustainability – 78% of people want to live in a way that is good for their own family, other people and the environment. People trust independent labels and most people have very low awareness of working conditions on flower farms, and awareness of Fairtrade flowers but of those who knew, nearly half would choose Fairtrade when purchasing flowers. So if we can raise awareness of Fairtrade flowers, we can generate more impact for flower workers.’

More and more retailers are joining the Fairtrade movement in support of sustainable and social goals. Some are funding schemes to further new research or enhanced opportunities for women’s empowerment and education. Some of the latest announcements and comments from the event include: 

  • The Co-op were the biggest retailer of Fairtrade flowers in the UK in 2018
  • At this year’s Chelsea Flower Show sustainability was a real theme with 5 environment focused gardens, such as the Forestry Commission’s resilience through diversity garden. 
  • Fairtrade flowers are available to buy at high street retailers; Aldi, Asda, Co-op, M&S and Sainsbury’s.
  • Fairtrade flowers are also available at online retailers; Arena Flowers, Moonpig 

For more information on Fairtrade Flowers.

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Notes to editors:

[1] Fairtrade Flowers Monitoring Report, 2019 release 

[2] Fairtrade Flowers Monitoring Report, 2019 release

[3] Globescan 2019