Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones magazine has a wake-up call for valentine's Day celebrants: Think You're a Virtuous Valentine? Think Again. She writes:
Cut flowers: That bouquet you may be planning to gift today was most likely not grown in the United States. The floriculture industry taps out at $32.8 billion, and about $14 billion of that comes from the sale of fresh flowers. Around 63 percent of those blooms are imports from colombia, and another 23 percent from ecuador.
The labor rights facts of this industry are truly depressing. In 2005, the International labor Rights Forum found that 55 percent of women working in the Ecuadorian flower production trade (they constitute half the flower workforce) had been victim to sexual harassment in the workplace. Nineteen percent were forced to have sex with a supervisor or coworker. Compulsory pregnancy testing is also a serious industry issue. In colombia, where women make up about 65 percent of flower workers, a survey conducted by the nation's flower industry union, Untraflores, found that about 80 percent of companies required women to take a pregnancy test as part of their job application process—presumably because they'd like to avoid providing paid maternity leave (required in colombia). Another problem: In 2000, upwards of 48,000 children were found working in ecuador's flower industry. Colombia wasn't much better. There have since been a number of hefty efforts at reform, and while Colombia's been improving, the US Department of labor still confirms extensive child labor use in ecuador.
So, is the $17.6 billion that we will spend in the United States this year on valentine's Day a boon for love? Ms. Lentinova goes on to outline other issues related to environmental impacts and other labor issues related to flowers, chocolate, and greeting cards. I doubt that there is a conspiracy to make Valentines day an anti-love venture. Unfortunately, this is a particularly ironic example of how our economy is deeply intertwined with poor environmental stewardship and poor treatment of labor. I would suggest that the first line of defense would be to consume no more than needed, to live simply. The next line of defense, a close second, would be to educate oneself about how what we buy affects the rest of the world; then, to act responsibly based on that information.
Buy the way, happy valentine's Day!