Historically, the Netherlands has always been mainly an exporter of flowers. In recent decades, however, more and more flower growers, including Dutch ones, have begun seed breeding and growing flowers in low-income countries, especially in Africa. Most of these flowers are traded via the Netherlands, which has led to the country becoming a hub in the global flower trade.
In flower cultivation in Africa, women do the heavy and monotonous work, such as picking, for which they are poorly paid. The women often have to support an entire family, but the wages are too low to meet even the most basic needs. On average, women employed in the flower sector in Africa earn between 25 and 50 euro per month. Men do the less heavy work but earn more.
The women are at high risk through, among other things, the use of pesticides. Often banned in Europe, these chemical compounds cause cancer, respiratory problems, and infertility. In addition, working in unnatural body positions that involve many repetitive movements leads to overload and to disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Employers do not provide proper instructions, protective equipment, or health checks. There are also no facilities for childcare or breastfeeding, and therefore many women are forced to stop working when they have a baby. Sexual harassment is widespread, partly a result of the strongly hierarchical relationships between men and women and the precarious work conditions. Women often lack the power to expose abuse, or are not listened to when they report it.
Many flower-producing countries have not ratified ILO conventions C184 (for health and safety in the agricultural sector) and C190 (against violence and harassment in the workplace). And in countries that have ratified the conventions, implementation and supervision are often lacking. Unions find it difficult to gain a foothold, because employers oppose them and workers are reluctant to organise themselves for fear of losing their jobs. As a result, very few collective agreements are established. Women are underrepresented in trade unions, especially in leadership roles. Certification in the sector does exist, but decent work and trade union rights are usually neglected by the very bodies that should be protecting them, and unions are not involved in implementation and monitoring.
We want governments and employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment, in which workers are not exposed to sexual violence and receive a living wage.
To achieve our goal, we use four strategies:
Ethiopia, Uganda, and sub-Saharan Africa*.
* The term ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ refers to a regional project or a programme in which different countries are involved.