I was very moved by a story in the May/June issue of Floraculture International called "Much Has Been Done, But There is Much More To Do." An Ecuadorian flower worker named Paulina Vilca gave a speech at a recent floral industry conference about the impact that flower certification programs have had on her life. She works at Petyros Flower Farm, a rose farm that is certified through the German Flower Label Program.
Many countries offer certification programs to ensure some level of social and environmental responsibility. Some certify the flowers that are sold in that country, regardless of where they are grown (German’s FLP and the United States’ Veriflora are two examples) and others certify flowers grown within a certain country, regardless of where those flowers may eventually be sold. (For example, Ecuador’s program is called Flor del Ecuador, and Colombia’s is called Flor Verde.) The requirements vary, with some having stricter worker and environmental protections than others, which can make it a little confusing for consumers who want to do the right thing.
However, Paulina Vilca’s comments really underscored what I heard over and over from labor advocates, union organizers, and pesticide groups: Some certification program is better than nothing. And: the worst thing people could do is to stop buying Latin American flowers. These jobs, even with some worker protections in place, may not sound like much, but the alternative–no job at all–is worse.
It’s a tricky issue. See if Paulina clears it up for you when she says:
In the past we did not have showers or clean toilets, nor did we have a place to change our clothes. Today, we have all these things. For many people (myself included) who have no running water or a shower at home, it is extremely refreshing to take a shower after work.
Her entire speech is quite moving, but it takes a concrete example like this–no running water at home–to remind most of us that in fact, a little progress can mean a lot.
(Note: These are not photographs of Pauline–these are photographs I took of Ecuadorian flower workers.)