Women in the flower industry in Colombia

The Colombian flower industry, which is positioned internationally as second largest exporter of fresh cut flowers, used mainly female workforce and make employment and wage opportunities for women in this country.

However, these jobs are poorly paid and precarious, and in some cases entail dangers to health and the environment from the use of toxic pesticides. While the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US will mean greater job opportunities for women, is unlikely to generate improvements in the quality of life of flower farms.

The economic restructuring associated with globalization and liberalization has reshaped the global agricultural trade. Besides the expansion of total production, income derived from agricultural commodities industry have declined. Processed food products, high value and differentiated, as is the case of trade in vegetables (fruits, vegetables, flowers) as well as fish, meat and oilseeds now constitute the most dynamic components of international agricultural trade.

For many developing countries, diversification into high value products has resulted in the emergence of non-traditional agricultural products, considered as new market niches. In recent decades, the importance of these products has increased and women have been able to capitalize on these new opportunities in the labor market in an unprecedented way. However, the quantitative increase in female participation in the labor market does not always translate to the qualitative improvement of the lives of women, as we shall see below.

Specifically, the cut flower industry has proved a dynamic economic sector that generates a growing demand in the international market. The process of emergence and consolidation of Colombian floriculture went through a growing economic internationalization from the sixties. In recent years, on the one hand, the sector has experienced changes in the organization of production and labor productivity have increased; and on the other, non-state actors (companies and NGOs) have made great efforts to improve labor standards in the industry, although the effectiveness of these efforts is questioned by some. Finally, the relative depletion of US market forces the Colombian flower industry to move towards European and Japanese markets. The entry into force of the FTA with the United States (US) last May 15, 2012 will make its effects fall within that context .

Working conditions and risks to health and the environment

The Colombian flower industry is internationally positioned as the second largest exporter of fresh cut flowers after the Netherlands. The flowers are the second largest agricultural exporter line after the revenue generated by the sale of coffee. The acreage for export represents approximately 6,800 hectares, located in the Sabana de Bogotá, in Antioquia and in other municipalities of central and west. The first destination of exports of Colombian flowers is the US, which absorbs 76% of cut flowers, the remaining exports go to European countries, Russia and Japan. Flower cultivation is labor intensive, due to the inability to machine some stages of production.

The presence of women in Florists Shrewsbury industry in Colombia has been mainstream since its inception, and this trend is confirmed today. Women represent about 65% of all employees in the sector. Commercial intensification has created numerous job opportunities for women; however, its majority stake in the production directed towards exports is not necessarily synonymous with increased quality of life due to low wages associated with the work in this sector. Although labor characteristics of women working in the sector vary in some cases depending on the size, shape organizational or management and geographic location of exporting companies, numerous studies highlight the following: In the flower industry, women clean the weeds, tie the plants, prune, cut, harvest and packaging, while men are involved in irrigation, spraying and maintenance.

Women are considered more suitable for hand work flowers work, but is both the most vulnerable and affected by flexible working conditions in the sector population sector. The work of the flower farms tends to be informal, characterized by a high degree of job insecurity and the virtual absence of social protection.The high dependence of women from their jobs resulting from the need to generate a regular family income and the tendency to labor flexibility in the industry affect the welfare and development of the communities concerned. A study by Oxfam estimates that 95% of women working in flower production contribute their salary to the family economy, which depends on average 4 or 5 people. Some women working in the flower sector in exchange for minimum wage, working overtime to accomplish their basic needs. These features are common to the Ecuadorian and Mexican flower industries, as well as the Chilean productive sector. However, studies of Mexican and Ecuadorian flower sector include paid employment of women has led to a reduction in gender disparities among the younger generation, in terms of women’s control of their income, greater participation in decision-making and greater bargaining power within the household.

In the flower industry, occupational health risks have traditionally been one of the most controversial aspects of the situation of Colombian workers. Among the most significant problems have been highlighted ergonomic, for the positions they have to take long periods of time; the mechanical, repetitive and inappropriate movements that can lead to cuts or other injuries; chemicals, by inhalation or contact with pesticides, pesticides and other harmful substances; physical, by high and low temperatures they endure (in the post-harvest period below zero temperatures are recorded); and finally, psychosocial problems, pressure to maintain the required production levels and the severity of the styles of supervision in most companies.

Additionally, the floriculture sector generates a number of effects on the environment and communities.The cultivation of flowers is a reduced availability of water for human consumption due to intensive use by businesses, the pollution of groundwater sources by the use of chemicals, indiscriminate use of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers that degrade the environment, and the deterioration of land where flowers are grown, thereby running the risk of leaving them sterile. Studies highlight the negative effects on the quality of life of the population and food security conditions, as flower production has discouraged the production of traditional foods in the areas concerned, and generated the decrease of water resources. Additionally, in the area of ​​the Sabana de Bogotá, floriculture has caused significant pollution of aquifers.

Social responsibility initiatives

The notorious journalistic and documentary reports have reported adverse environmental and working conditions faced by workers in plantations have raised questions and discussions between, especially European buyers, regarding the enforcement of labor and environmental standards, supported local NGOs.Consequently, the Colombian Association of Flower (ASOCOLFLORES), which brings together the leading exporters created its own code of labor and environmental standards in 1996, called Green Flower. This code includes the following aspects: i) guaranteed and timely payment of wages, benefits and compensation; ii) guarantee of job security and non-discriminatory treatment of the worker; iii) general coverage of occupational health and social security; v) respect for the right information and training for the labor unemployment, human resource management planning; and vi) strengthening the welfare of the worker and his family and commitment not to recruit children under 18 years.

However, there was some criticism because the code of conduct does not recognize the right of workers to join unions and to bargain collectively. Some studies consider these practices of corporate social responsibility as an indication of a purely defensive perspective, as there is no real democratic gains in corporate spaces. The dispersion of the sector hampers controls all companies, so although some are certified, can remain precarious conditions in smaller units. The implementation of socio-environmental practices is also difficult due to the diversity of forms of contracting in the sector.

Potential effects of the entry into force of the FTA with the US

The entry into force of the FTA between Colombia and the US the May 15, 2012 raises several issues for the sector. With this agreement seeks to preserve the preferences granted by the Law of Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) indefinitely and strengthen positive investment climate, environment, labor issues and public procurement.

A study by the Bank of the Republic of Colombia estimates that the FTA would generate an increase in total trade in Colombia for more than three points of GDP and an increase in foreign direct investment over 2,300 million. However, it shows a negative impact on the balance of payments in the agricultural sector.This is explained by the greater volume of imports of US agricultural goods compared to Colombian exports to US .. Other analyzes indicate that the effects for the agricultural sector could be positive if the US decides further tariff barriers, eliminating non-tariff barriers to Colombia.

He complains, however, that the labor chapter of the agreement with the US offers no advantages, not least because it was excluded from the internationally recognized core labor rights, referred to non-discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, as defined in Convention 111 of the International Labour Organization. Therefore the vulnerability of workers in the sector increased from the perspective of women. Finally, during the FTA negotiation process as well as its stage of ratification, insufficient information was provided to the public, so that the contributions of civil society organizations were not sufficiently discussed.

In conclusion, the work of people linked to the floriculture is the only source of income for thousands of families in rural and marginal urban areas. While the implementation of NAFTA have the effect of creating job opportunities for women in the flower sector, it has been shown that the jobs created will be low-level and pay, and unsafe conditions. In order to assess the impact of CAFTA, should take into account the conditions of life, work and health safety of workers in the sector. It is therefore important to emphasize the urgency of promoting social and public policies that respond to the needs of working agribusiness flowers so that employment opportunities created for Colombian workers require an improvement in their standard of living, and that of their communities.

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