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Op-Ed

Valentine’s Day ethics: how green is your red rose?

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By EMN Updated: Feb 13, 2014 11:23 pm
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Janise Elie

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he influx of overpriced flowers, tacky heart-shaped chocolates and the distant sound of a stampede to the card shop can mean only one thing. The nightmare before Valentine’s Day is upon us again. But before you snap up that bargain-bucket bouquet, have you ever wondered where it has come from? Just how green is the red rose? Are your sweet treats slave-free?Around 70% of the roses being sold in the UK this week were cut in Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, according to the Kenya Flower Council. The industry is dominated by multinationals, which own vast farms, and about 800m flowers will be dispatched from Kenya to Europe in the runup to 14 February, making them the country’s biggest export earner.
While the industry’s carbon footprint is far from fragrant, there’s also the issue of low-pay and harsh employment conditions for pickers to consider. The plight of Colombia’s mainly female flower workers is among the many such issues to trigger concern. The Latin American country is the world’s second-biggest exporter of cut flowers; it employs 80,000 workers, 70% of whom are women. According to War on Want, women toiling in greenhouses in the flower region of Bogotá frequently earn less than $1 a day and endure exploitative working conditions. They tend to earn less than their male counterparts, are hired on short-term fixed contracts of just three to six months – which are not renewed if workers become ill, pregnant or attempt to form a union, the anti-poverty charity says.
Meanwhile, the world’s growing appetite for chocolate has prompted similar concerns. Valentine’s Day may not be widely celebrated in Africa, but the continent lies at the soft caramel centre of the chocolate industry. The majority of cocoa beans are produced there, which means the chocolates handed to you by your beloved most likely began life in African soil. Just two countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast, supply 75% of the world’s cocoa market.
In west Africa, cocoa is grown primarily for export, and as the world gorges on ever greater quantities of chocolate, the demand for cheap cocoa has risen exponentially. One in four Ivorians relies upon the proceeds of cocoa to feed their family. But with many farmers barely seeking out a living from selling the beans, some have resorted to the use of child labour to keep their prices competitive. The proliferation of such practices has triggered international condemnation in recent years, prompting human rights groups to pressure some of the world’s biggest chocolatiers including Hershey, Mars and Nestlé to crack down on child exploitation. In 2001, several industry heavyweights signed an agreement to stamp out such practices. But concerns over working conditions at rival firms remain. So how can you do your bit to help? What can you do to promote trade justice and ensure a slave-free Valentine’s Day? Oxfam has a few ideas. Its charity gifts scheme has 30 ethical gifts from just £5 that include a breeding pair of locally sourced, fully vaccinated goats to nets to better protect people from mosquitoes. The charity will also send a card with a personalised message to the person on whose behalf the livestock has been dispatched. Similar schemes are being touted by Christian Aid and Green Tulip, with the latter also offering a selection of eco-friendly toiletries and Fairtrade jewellery.
For ethically produced confectionery, Divine Chocolate believes its mini love hearts – which are individually wrapped in red, gold and silver foil – make the perfect gift. The chocolatier is 45%-owned by cocoa farmers and ensures they receive a better deal for their produce and have a stronger voice in the industry. Other “slave-free” brands include Choc Affair and Green & Black’s.
Are you among the hopeless romantics planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Will you opt for an ethical gift? Do you care where your chocolates and flowers come from?
Courtesy: The Guardian

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By EMN Updated: Feb 13, 2014 11:23:58 pm