The labor organization War on Want contends that many flower workers in Colombia – the second-largest exporter of fresh-cut flowers next to the Netherlands – are forced to work in poor conditions. The group estimates that nearly 90,000 workers are employed by fresh-cut flower companies on a short-term basis, with contracts of 3 to 6 months.
According to War on Want, cancer-causing pesticides are used in the vast greenhouses where the workers grow, cut and package the fresh-cut flowers – the most popular gift on Feb. 14 – for shipping to European and North American markets. The labor group charges that flower workers have no protective equipment or clothing such as masks or gloves, leaving them exposed to the pesticides.
According to War on Want, the pesticides cause headaches, asthma, nausea and impaired vision, and the repetitive tasks and long hours in assembly-line jobs also have caused painful carpal tunnel injuries.
War on Want asserts that flower workers' contracts are not renewed if they become ill or pregnant or attempt to form a union.
War on Want's Colombian partner organization, Cactus, has launched an initiative that offers health and safety workshops to the flower workers to highlight the dangers of their workplace and inform workers about their safety rights. According to Cactus' Web site, the group already has organized seven health and safety workshops.
For more information on the plight of Colombian flower workers, visit War on Want's Web site.