“The difference between my occupation and one of a slave is just the spelling. This is the only job that is available. I have 3 daughters and I never want them to experience a fraction of what I go through every day. We speak out only to fear being whipped”
The painful words of Maxine Rodriguez (not her real name).
We were fortunate to be part of a very eye opening conversation with Necip (not his real name), a Turkish national representing a Colombian carpet factory.
He markets his materials by day, but at night, he can be seen going around houses in a small town of Colombia. He offers jobs to mostly Afro-Colombian children and women who are desperate to leave the fresh cut flower industry.
We do not need to be in the business to know that the industry is indeed a booming one. With occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day being vigilantly celebrated all around the world, this industry is set to bloom for many decades to come.
However, while there are millions of women around the world feeling love struck over this token of love in the form of flowers, millions more suffer. As a matter of fact, they suffer tragically.
In lesser developed towns in Colombia, Kenya, China, and India, the working conditions that the workers have to put up with are far from decent. To ensure a reliable fulfilment to their buyers, flower farms often expose the flowers to freezing temperatures, introduce a huge amounts of toxic pesticides, and perform regular fumigation.
Now, that is just with regard to the freshness of the flowers. Farms often force these workers to work inhumane shifts, up to 16 hours a day. If these workers are lucky, the work is repetitive and mundane. Most of the times, they are not. Further to being a part of a toxic environment, they often bleed as they try their best to maintain their speed of work to prevent facing some undesirable consequences. The nature of the consequences you might ask? We have seen classified and confidential images from Necip’s mobile phone. All my disturbed mind can think of now is to say that they are only in the form of physical torture and sexual abuse to the women and children.
It is unimaginable to see the women and children manhandled and be treated like nothing more than a sack of meat.
It did not take long for us to realise that even without viewing any images, Necip’s revelations were not difficult to believe. Almost every single stalk of fresh cut flowers in Singapore have their buds wrapped with a seamless net. Something that most certainly cannot be done by a machine. During stressful moments of tight deadlines, imagining how devastating the experience is would be something not many will want to do.
No care is shown to the workers and it is inevitable that the constant need for efficient productivity would result in long term health problems for the workers if they had not been abused yet anyway.
Necip is determined to change the lives of all of these people, but there are only so many that his factory can hire.
While it is difficult to believe that there are absolutely no other jobs available for these workers, we as pampered Singaporeans have not seen enough of the world to even pass a judgement.
A story like this fuels us to be overly joyful to be awake every day, doing what we love to do. While Necip does not want this documentation to potentially deter his progress, we are doing him a favour by assisting to promote FAIR TRADE and VERIFLORA flowers.
As people ourselves who have had fallen in love before, sometimes all we care about is putting a smile on the face of our significant other. The next time you plan on doing so with flowers, do take some steps to ensure if your retailer purchases their flowers from farms who are compliant with basic human rights.
How can you verify? Check if the flowers are with the ‘FAIR TRADE’ or VERIFLORA’ certifications. These certifications guarantee that workers on flower farms are treated as fairly as how any human should. We buy flowers too, and that is something we are most certainly going to look out for.
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Disclaimer: This is not an article to disavow flowers in hope of promoting products from Masons Home Décor, but merely an anonymous guest post.