Growing Pains

An UK organization called War on Want has issued a new report about the cut flower industry called Growing Pains:  The Human Cost of Cut Flowers in British Supermarkets.  You can read a press release and download the report here.  Be sure to check out the footnotes–this report is extensively documented.

Here’s their main point:  Flower farms are supposed to adhere to voluntary standards that guarantee decent working conditions and safe environments.  But those principles are regularly violated, they say, so voluntary codes of conduct don’t work.  Instead, these companies should be subject to stricter regulation.  The group wants workers to be able to seek redress in the UK if they suffer as a result of working for a company that sells products in the UK.  They also want the government to enact "meaningful legislation on the industry as a whole," although they don’t specify what that might mean.

The report also calls upon supermarkets to "take responsibility for the treatment of their suppliers," pointing out that supermarkets may hold the most power over farms and may be in the best position to insist upon change.

I’ll let you read the report for yourself and make up your own mind.  It raises two important points for me:

1.  The environmental certification program has to have some teeth to it.  It has to mean something.  For example, does the certication program require complaince with the International Code of Conduct for Cut Flowers?  Does it ban Category 1 and/or Category 2 pesticides, those that have been deemed to be the most harmful to human health by the World Health Organization?  Does it place any meaningful restrictions on what chemicals a grower can use, or does it simply require compliance with the law and good recordkeeping?  And–this is important to me, as a consumer–are the workers even told that their farm has been through this certification?  Is there a poster up in the workplace explaining the standards their employer must adhere to?  Is there a whistleblower number so that the workers can call if the standards are violated?  Are there surprise inspections, and are workers interviewed privately?

2.  Consumers need some way to react.  We can write to our congresspersons or complain to our grocery store managers or florists, but the fact is that we’re at our most powerful when we let our money do the talking.  So put a label on the flowers and let us vote.  It’s astonishing to me that I see peanut butter in Safeway labeled according to whether it’s organic, all-natural, GMO-free, Skippy, or otherwise.  Seems to work fine for peanut butter.  You can even buy organic yoga pants at Wal-Mart.  (I didn’t even know I needed organic yoga pants.)  Dolphin-free tuna.  Free-range eggs.  Hormone-free milk.  Organic heirloom tomatoes.  It’s all for sale at the most ordinary, mainstream grocery store.  And now, for the first time, I’m starting to see certified flowers for sale at the grocery store, too.  But what took so long? 

And will the industry ever agree upon one standard for growers everywhere around the world?  And will that standard mean anything, or will it simply require compliance with the law–and anyway, shouldn’t everyone obey the law?

Just a thought.