Human Flower Project

Flower Ethics: How Deep Is Your Love?


More and more, buying anything is an act subject to moral scrutiny. In an economic slump, how are conscientious consumers of flowers responding?


imageWatering gerberas on a Kenyan flower farm

Photo: Business Daily

Just two months ago, the Fairtrade Labeling Organization was cheering. Its record of buying habits in 2007 showed a 47% increase in global sales of Fairtrade certified products – including flowers.

Since 2004, Fairtrade has certified flower farms in Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zimbabwe that have proven “safe and acceptable working conditions for their employees. Consumers can buy Fairtrade flowers that carry the FAIRTRADE Mark knowing that the rights of the workers who have produced them are being respected,” the organization writes. “An additional payment, known as the Fairtrade Premium is included in the price for projects to improve the social conditions of workers and their communities.”

The group’s flower division plans to introduce new standards October 31.

One retail expert, quoted by Dominique Patton in Business Daily (Nairobi), declared in June that fairtrade goods, flowers included, have captured a permanent chunk of the consumables market. Joanne Denney-Finch, of London-based IGD, said then of fairtrade goods that concerns about the economy “are unlikely to have a significant impact on ‘ethical’ shopping, which is based on ‘deep-seated beliefs.’

“People will not backtrack on these lightly,” she told a meeting of retailers in London.

But what if there is more than one way to shop ethically? Over many months, we’ve been contacted by major online flower suppliers promoting sales drives that turn a portion of revenues back to particular charities. (Teleflora’s “Stand Up to Cancer” bouquet is the latest of these conscientious consumption efforts.)

And in both England and the US, another right-shopping trend in the flower market prods us to buy from local growers (How fat is your carbon-footprint?). Several months ago, British flower growers and London florists came together at the wholesale flower market at Nine Elms in London to show off what can be achieved with British blossoms.

image

Growers John Waddington, Ron Geaters, and Carolyn Whetman show some of the glories of English-only flowers.

Photo: Philip Hollis

This writer for the Telegraph shattered his/her buttons over the all-English flower possibilities. “We had sweet peas (Greenlines Nursery); scented stocks (J. Pell and Sons); alstromerias in deep, rich colours (Geaters); huge-headed roses (Country Roses); great bunches of lilac (Porters Foliage); clove-scented English garden pinks (Whetman Pinks); pink, fluffy peonies (Tregothnan Estates); exotic and dignified calla lilies in crimson, deep orange and white (Copseys); cymbidiums (Preseli Orchids) and vast, amazing lilies (H.W. Hyde & Son) all under one roof. That’s just a few of the flowers available in May.”

May, yes. But what about December? The exuberant author admitted that field flowers are less “reliable” than Dutch imports but insists that the range and availability of local blooms are a lot wider year round than buyers might suspect.

The most recent reports, however, show that ethics may be taking a back seat—to economics. As money woes in the U.S. seep across the Atlantic, consumer confidence generally there has waned; trade in “luxuries” like flowers tends to show a quicker and steeper decline than do markets in other consumer goods.

“The sales figures are going down,” Peter van Ostaijen, of the international trade association Union Fleurs, told Dominique Patton this month. “Last year the Dutch industry grew by four per cent over 2007. In the first half of this year, growth has been flat.” Van Ostaijen says the export market will be especially hard hit.

“We’ve definitely seen consumers changing their shopping habits,” said Natalie Berg, who studies grocery markets for PlanetRetail. “Six months ago it was all about sustainability and Fairtrade products. Now there’s a real shift to price and value.”

Some market watchers, according to Patton, contend that trade in “ethical” products has been “driven by consumers looking for a feelgood factor, rather than real commitment to their methods of production.” It will be interesting to see how the cut flower trade (and other markets) bear their moral freight. Alongside Fairtrade flowers we now have buy-and-be-charitable flowers and “support your local farmer” flowers. And we can only suppose the forms of right-buying will continue to multiply.


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