A large number of players have joined together in the floriculture Sustainability initiative. Because many Dutch rose growers are stationed in Kenya, Hivos and P+ brought out a Special issue of our report in English: Fair Flowers, the Journey of the Rose.
“Say it with flowers. The Dutch floriculture sector knows only too well that its livelihood depends on emotion. Flowers aren’t one of life’s necessities after all, they’re all about making people feel good. So if the consumer starts to wonder whether flowers are actually okay, sales might well collapse. Maybe that’s what makes thesector particularly sensitive to criticism.
Most of the criticism directed at the flower and plant industry has tended to focus on environmental concerns, but more recently attention has been directed at the socialaspect of horticultural production – particularly in the tropics. That’s where an increasing number of Dutch growers have relocated their flower production because of the available space, low local wage costs and the many hours of sunshine.
Development aid organisation Hivos’s Power of the Fair Trade Flower publicity campaign last autumn turned the spotlights on horticultural production in Africa. More particularly it shed light on the plight of women workers, who account for the majority of the sector’s workforce. The organisation pulled no punches in its campaign. “In East Africa flowers are often produced under shocking conditions. The wages are too low for a reasonable quality of life, women’s labour rights are violated and sexual abuse is rife”, Hivos reported.
The Dutch daily papers took up the story in numerous articles and consumer rights tv show Tros Radar broadcast a programme on the theme to coincide with Valentine’s Day. The sector was outraged. “I know growers who completely flipped”, says Gijs Kok, manager of External Relations at Flora Holland. “They don’t recognise themselves in this picture being painted of the sector. It’s mainly Dutch companies who are lead- ing the way in Africa with ethical standards. A publicity campaign like this feels like a slap in the face.”
This is how this Special Issue of P+ starts, the Dutch Platform on Sustainable Practices (CSR), based in the Netherlands. This publishing (both digital and in print) is not a coincidence.
The Netherlands is a major player in the world decorative flower trade: 60% of all production originates with Dutch companies. In 2012 they exported flowers and plants worth € 5.4 billion. As such floriculture represents the most important part of the Dutch horticultural sector, itself a key Dutch export pillar.
Nowadays more than a quarter of the flowers sold in the Netherlands – and exported from there – come from East African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. And the share of blooms grown in East Africa is still on the increase. In the winter months around half of the flower production comes from African countries. Roses are by far the most popular flower, with the FloraHolland auction trading some three billion annually.The sector has been hit by the financial crisis, with the volume of flower and plant exports via the Aalsmeer auction stagnating in 2012. However price increases meant turnover was still up by 3% compared to the previous year. Sales in southern Europe have fallen, but this is being offset by increased sales in emerging economies. The rise of electronic trading has led to redundancies at the physical auction house, with Flora Holland announcing it is to cut 1400 of the 3200 jobs.
Many of the country’s nine thousand growers are also struggling to keep their heads above water and industry pundits predict a wave of mergers. Growers vary hugely in size: alongside the dozens of small companies market leader Dutch Flower Group is a giant, booking a turnover of € 1 billion in 2012. Employment in the sector as a whole is also in steady decline due to the outsourcing of flower production abroad. Over the last decade job numbers in the glasshouse growing sector have fallen by a quarter.
This Special was organized and written by P+-senior writer Hans van de Veen (images Bas Jongerius).
See the left column for a free download of the PDF of this Special Issue.