Lupita Aguila, Program Coordinator, USLEAP
This week, flower workers from two distinct plantations in Colombia went on strike after their companies failed to pay their wages and benefits. On May 6, 2009, workers from Camino Real and Degaflores had no other choice than to declare an official work stoppage when both companies did not meet an April 30 payment agreement of backwages from the month before. According to UNTRAFLORES, a Colombian organization of flower worker unions, workers had no other choice than to go on strike.
In fact, violations like wage theft are very common within
the Colombian flower sector. With Mother's
Day ahead flower workers are forced to 12-16 hours of tedious labor,
exposed to high levels of pesticide intoxication, and repressed their right to
freedom of association. Over 60% of the
cut-flowers sold in the U.S.
are from Colombia. As part of a national tour sponsored by the
U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP),
the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF),
and Jobs with Justice South Florida (JwJ), Amanda
Camacho, a flower worker from Colombia and member of UNTRAFLORES, will be
speaking on National Public Radio's Worldview on Friday,
May 8, 2009 at 12PM (CST) to discuss the ongoing issues and struggles in
the flower industry.
"I am here to raise awareness among U.S. consumers and tell the true story behind the beautiful flowers that you buy your mother on Mother's Day," stated Amanda. In conjunction with the tour, USLEAP has also produced a new Toolkit and booklet titled Gendered Injustice as part of its Economic Justice for Flower Workers Campaign. The toolkit and booklet provide tips on how to take action in support of flower workers, who are mostly women, in Colombia.
UNTRAFLORES is calling on support from U.S. consumers for the workers from Camino Real and Degaflores. As of late Thursday, the strike at Camino Real and Degaflores ended after companies paid workers their backwages, but they have yet to pay social security benefits that by law these companies are obliged to pay. Workers have conceded to another agreement with the company after it has agreed to pay benefits at a later meeting.
The plantation Camino Real is associated to the Colombian association of flower exporters, ASOCOLFLORES. ASOCOLFLORES has been one of the entities at the forefront of the lobbying efforts for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. They recently began a campaign within the U.S. marketing their flowers as environmentally and socially responsible. Though advances in technology have made it possible for plantations to reduce the use of pesticides, the worker rights issues that have arose in the last days at Camino Real and Degaflores highlight the need for an in-depth evaluation of the certification processes.