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  • Workers select roses to be packed at a flower farm of "The Elite flowers" company in Facatativa, near Bogota, Colombia, on Feb. 1, 2012.

    Workers select roses to be packed at a flower farm of "The Elite flowers" company in Facatativa, near Bogota, Colombia, on Feb. 1, 2012. | Photo: AFP

Flower workers, 65 percent of whom are women, suffer discrimination, lower wages, long hours, and other abuses.

If you are planning to buy a flower this Mother’s Day in the United State, think twice.  

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American consumers buy 78 percent of the flowers produced in Colombia, but the workers who produce these flowers near Bogota have been working an average of 84 hours every week in preparation for Mother’s Day over the past month, a new report shows. 

The Project for International Accompaniment and Solidarity (PASO) conducted the research by visiting towns where flowers are grown and interviewing flower sector employees. The findings revealed patterns of union-busting, work related disabilities and sexual harassment targeting female employees. 

“Today, a flower is not produced with sweetness but with tears. Our product is used to express beautiful feelings throughout the world, but we are treated very poorly,” a flower sector employee from Facatativa said as quoted in the report. 

The report found that employees complained the most about their low wages. Almost all workers surveyed perform core activities, such as planting, cutting and packing, with a minimum wage of $256 per month. In comparison, Colombia flowers sold for a total of $2.1 billion in the United States on Valentine’s Day in 2015. 

During peak production months leading up to holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, excessive hours are expected for flower workers. Eighty percent of workers surveyed indicated having experienced hardships during peak production periods. The most frequent problems reported were physical pain, illness, and exhaustion because of lengthy shifts. 

The report showed half of the employees felt their health had been negatively impacted by their jobs. For those who had worked for more than 20 years in the industry, 76 percent suffered from medical conditions related to repetitive actions at work. 

Colombia’s flower industry is the country’s leading nontraditional agricultural export, with a record sale of $1.37 billion in 2014. It occupies 14 percent of the world market, second only to Holland.

With about 65 percent of its workers are women, the flower industry is often promoted as being a leading source of employment for women, but unequal gender representation in leadership positions and pay scales calls into question the industry’s commitment to its women workers. 

The women surveyed in the report also expressed sexual harassments on the job and hostile treatment by supervisors, such as yelling, public humiliation or unwanted sexual advances. 

As flower workers still working in difficult conditions, Colombia’s flower sector failed to set union memberships for them. Of 130,000 employees in Colombia’s flower sector, only 200 are union members, according to the report. 

When employers see a worker speaking with a union leader, they will fire them the next day, a flower sector employee who is a member of Colombia’s largest agricultural union Sintrainagro told PASO. 

“The Ministry of Labor doesn’t fulfill its function of supervising, monitoring and controlling these processes, so it’s very difficult for the workers. They are afraid of speak out,” he said. 

The report urges these governments to engage with the private sector and civil society to investigate labor abuses in the flower industry and take concrete action to hold related companies accountable. 

Community leaders hope U.S. consumers can create a demand for a more socially responsible chain of production to pressure the improvement of these workers' social conditions.

“We recommend that consumers in the United States and throughout the world take our findings into account in deciding how to spend their money on holidays, such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day,” the report said. 

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