The UK flower industry must work towards achieving living wages for flower workers in low-income countries and support flower farms to improve workers’ incomes and rights, so they can build their resilience to crises such as Covid-19, the Fairtrade Foundation has said.
In a new report, Blooming Back Better: Towards living wages and resilience in the flower industry, published ahead of Mother’s Day (14 March), the Fairtrade Foundation calls on businesses, farms and governments to do more to tackle the challenges facing workers in the flower and plant industry, and to join Fairtrade in working towards living wages.
Globally, the export of cut flowers was worth over £6.75bn in 2018. However with prices paid to flower farms for their products still very low, many workers in low-income countries – particularly those outside the Fairtrade system – remain under-paid, receiving well below a living wage. They also struggle with poor working and living conditions, the report says.
The low wages earned by workers – together with the lack of social safety nets, chronic food insecurity, and poor quality of water and sanitation – has undermined their ability to deal with the problems caused by the global pandemic, including the significant loss of flower sales and subsequent drop in workers’ incomes, according to the Fairtrade Foundation.
It is now urging the sector to ensure flower workers are equipped to withstand future crises, particularly by committing to work towards living wages. Fairtrade is already committed to achieving living wages for workers on Fairtrade farms across the supply chains it certifies, including flowers and plants: it has introduced a floor wage that ensures wages are above the World Bank poverty line, helping to increase earnings by as much as 130 percent in some countries.
Dr Louisa Cox, Director of Impact at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “The flower and plant industry is a hugely important source of hundreds of thousands of jobs in low-income countries, and is particularly vital for women. Yet too many workers are poorly paid and conditions are tough. The global pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable many global agricultural supply chains are to external shocks; it has also underlined the precarious nature of many farmers’ and workers’ livelihoods.
“As this report highlights, living wages are key to helping workers flourish. Not only do they allow workers and their families to live a life of dignity, but they also enable them to build up their own savings and become resilient to crises such as Covid-19. Fairtrade is committed to making further gains towards achieving a living wage for flower farm workers and we invite other industry players to join us in the journey of empowering workers.
“We recommend that the UK flower industry agrees a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at achieving living wages in flowers, with donor support from the UK government and others. This should agreeing to pay a floor wage higher than the World Bank poverty line, and supporting flower farms with programmes that improve workers’ incomes and build resilience against future shocks.”
The Fairtrade report asks governments to introduce an ‘appropriately benchmarked national minimum wage’ for the horticultural sector, where none already exists. It also recommends that governments and non-certified flower farms recognise and work with trade unions to strengthen workers’ rights, including ‘ensuring fair and just remuneration, freedom of association and collective bargaining’.
In a call to the UK government, Fairtrade invites the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to put achieving living incomes and wages ‘at the heart’ of its Economic Development strategy: for instance, by supporting further match-fund facilities such as its Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility, which support businesses that are committed to achieving living wages for workers and want innovate in their supply chains.
Fairtrade began certifying flowers in 2001 and plants in 2014: nearly 70,000 people now work on certified estates, including in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Sri Lanka. Before the pandemic, over 825 million stems were sold on Fairtrade terms, generating nearly £6m globally in Fairtrade Premium – an additional payment producers can invest collectively in community and business projects of their choosing.
Kebebush Gobena, a worker at Ziway Roses in Ethiopia, is grateful for the higher income she earns through Fairtrade: “A better wage has made it easier to send three of my school-going children to school. Now, I can live a normal life too. I can go to the market, buy more food items and once in a while buy clothes for myself and my children.”
Dr Louisa Cox added: “The pandemic has reaffirmed the need to address the structural causes of poverty in the flower and plant industry. Fairtrade is committed to playing our part in tackling these and we continue to empower workers and improve their lives, including through our Fairtrade Premium and our Producer Relief and Resilience Funds.
“As proud as we are of our impact, Fairtrade-certified flower and plant farms only make up a small proportion of the sector in low-income countries. Building a fairer and more resilient industry will require determined and collective action, including higher prices being paid to flower farms for their products, and action by governments and shoppers too.
“We urge UK-based retailers and traders to commit to sourcing more Fairtrade flowers and encourage UK shoppers to keep buying Fairtrade stems. This support has helped workers get through some extremely difficult times and is now more important than ever.”
Fairtrade flowers are sold by most major supermarkets and online florists in the UK. The Co-op is the only UK retailer to stock 100% Fairtrade roses in its African-sourced bouquets.
Cathryn Higgs, Head of Food Policy for Co-op, said: “We welcome the recommendations of this report, and echo the need to support flower workers in low-income countries. That is why we are committed to Fairtrade and since 2018 we’ve sourced all our African roses on 100% Fairtrade terms – the only UK retailer to currently do so. People are at the heart of everything we do, and we recognise the role we play in ensuring that all producers and workers are given a fair deal.”
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