Since their introduction as a Fairtrade product in 2001, the volume of stems sold has been growing steadily year on year. Increasingly, consumers are looking for flowers that are not only fresh and beautiful but also produced with meaningful social and economic values in mind. During 2016, 829 million flower stems were sold in 15 countries. This translated into total Premium earnings of more than €6.8 million for workers on Fairtrade certified flower farms.
While this is good news, a lot still needs to be done to ensure that more money and benefits reach the workers, most of whom are located in eastern African countries. A relatively low percentage of Fairtrade sales per farm and low wages generally throughout the sector are two of the most pressing issues Fairtrade must tackle in order to boost benefits for workers.
Fairtrade is also working on making Premium use more transparent for all stakeholders. As a result, Premium funds in excess of €30,000 now require an external financial audit. In exceptional cases, where any misuse of Premium funds is detected, management advisors to the Fairtrade Premium Committee can block spending that violates any rules related to Premium use.
While the overall market for Fairtrade flowers has been growing steadily and more farms have become Fairtrade certified over the last decade, the percentage of producers’ sales on Fairtrade terms remains relatively low – only 20 to 30 percent on average. In order to continue supporting workers to improve their working and living conditions, it is essential to expand sales on Fairtrade terms at a faster rate.
To achieve this, Fairtrade began looking at new ways for market partners to engage and source more Fairtrade volumes at farm level back in 2016. One of the most recent initiatives enables the use of Fairtrade flowers in more flower bouquets. For example, bouquets made with 100 percent Fairtrade roses carry the standard Fairtrade label. However, bouquets may also now carry the label if they contain at least 50 percent Fairtrade roses, mixed with flowers and foliage that are not available as Fairtrade certified.
In addition, Fairtrade has recruited a Flowers Trader Manager to engage key traders more and build the florist and auction market for Fairtrade. At the same time, marketing to promote Fairtrade certified flowers among consumers continues to be a priority in all the markets where Fairtrade flowers are sold.
With wages being low throughout the flower sector, efforts to secure living wages for flower estate workers are vital. Fairtrade Standards require Fairtrade certified flower farms to pay at least the minimum legal wage or the regional average. Unfortunately, these amounts are generally quite low and far from a living wage. Our Standards also require farms to increase real wages annually in order to continuously close the gap with living wages as defined by the Anker methodology for living wage measurement. The incremental wage increases and timelines are negotiated with elected worker representatives. In some countries there are no legal minimum wages for flower workers which could serve as a basis for wage negotiations. Under these circumstances, Fairtrade has limited influence on the initial base wages from which to work. As a first step in addressing this, Fairtrade revised the standard requirements for flower farms in order to better protect flower workers against extremely low wages.
Fairtrade strongly believes that all stakeholders – including employers, trade unions, buyers and retailers – must make a joint effort to enable flower farms to pay living wages and produce sustainably in a highly competitive environment. The reality, though, is that average market prices for major commodities traded internationally do not allow for living wages at production sites.
For that reason Fairtrade is testing new mechanisms to create extra value in the supply chain. For example, one in a flowers cutting supply chain included the company’s initiative to pay an additional few cents to a Fairtrade certified cuttings supplier which has led to some significant impact.
Top image: Workers at the Fairtrade certified Ponte Tresa flower farm in Ecuador. Image © Jean Claude Coostant
 FLOCERT compliance criteria (2017), p. 59, 126.96.36.199 is applicable for Fairtrade Premium receipts above €30,000 (Premium currency) in the last financial year. Where it is required, organizations must contract a financial audit company to audit their FPC accounts based on the use decided in the General Assembly. Available at: https://www.flocert.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/HiredLabour_ComplianceCriteria_en.pdf
 Fairtrade Hired Labour Standard, p.14, 2.1.13: Management participates actively and responsibly in the Fairtrade Premium Committee through its advisors and assists and supports the workers in the administration of the Fairtrade Premium. Management advisors to the FPC have a non-voting advisory role. They have the right to block expenditure that would violate rules for Fairtrade Premium use (2.1.17 and 2.1.19), if proposed Fairtrade Premium use is illegal, fraudulent or if it has a demonstrable negative structural, financial or social impact on the company. Available at: https://www.fairtrade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/generic-standards/HL_EN.pdf
 Kavilu, S. (2017 Feb 14), ‘Low wages and poor conditions- a thorn in the side of Kenya’s flower workers’, Equal Times, Available at: https://www.equaltimes.org/low-wages-and-poor-conditions-a?lang=en#.WxlFMoq-lhE
 Fairtrade International, Available at: https://www.fairtrade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/Flowers_and_Plants_Standards_HL_EN.pdf