Growers’ Resistance

Growers’ Resistance

 

Some of the growers are likely resisting improvements for tradition reasons – bad management skills, absence of necessary technical knowledge, unwillingness (or inability due to limited capital) to take the risks associated with a shift to integrated pest management, cost-cutting strategy that ignores employee and environmental needs, etc.  In some cases, however, growers resist actions because of a general antagonism toward the foreign pressure groups or a belief that they cannot maintain a competitive position if they pursue a high standards, high cost strategy.  

 

Some growers view the foreign pressure for change cynically, simply as an extension of the protectionist efforts of industrialized country agricultural interests that have targeted a host of agricultural commodities from less industrialized countries. This perception is supported by the participation of many industrialized country growers groups and labor unions, in the international campaigns. Those groups would clearly benefit from declining floral imports.[1]  The growers see wealthy, industrialized country interest brand them as members of the national elite, when often, they are simply people who had access to education and then started small farms that grew with the industry.

 

Further, many in the industry resent the fact that the foreign groups are unwilling to admit the positive aspects of the industry, nor do they report improvements that have occurred. For example, an ILO report points out that the flower industry pays above average wages and several firms provide benefits above the legal requirements,[2] but foreign pressure groups often report only the hourly wage and leave readers to compare that to wages in industrialized economies that are, not surprisingly, much higher.  The film that started it all, Love, Women and Flowers, continues to be shown even though it describes conditions that are seventeen years old. Websites and action materials contain references to studies done eight or more years ago.[3] On top of it all, the Colombians often find themselves lumped with Ecuador[4], a competing grower that they believe has substantially lower standards. Finally, they point out the fact that the pesticide problems are found in industrialized countries as well. In California, a major agricultural center with many different types of crops, 23% of all pesticide poisonings occur in the relatively tiny flower industry.[5]

 

            There is also resistance on economic grounds. The Colombians recognize that they have many national competitors including Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, Kenya, the Philippines, and Thailand. New competitor countries seem to be cropping up constantly, with India and Vietnam, which recently destroyed the market for another one of Colombia’s products, coffee, entering the flower arena. Growers argue that it is unfair to target their operations simply because they are a major grower; other countries, they say are at least as bad. Further, the evidence is clear – most consumers in wealthy countries are not willing to pay more for products that assure high labor and environmental standards. The Colombians feel that if they pursue a high-cost, high standard strategy, they will simply be forced from the market and be replaced by other low quality manufacturers.

 

Given the complexity of the situation, are there effective strategies available for effecting change in the industry?



[1]For an article on US Flower growers efforts to fight imports from Colombia, see http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/reutersjournal/trade/pg33.html. An article noting Colombian’s cynical view: http://www.globalmarch.org/cl-around-the-world/accusations-in-full-flower.php3

It should be noted, though, that in some cases, foreign union involvement occurs because those unions are supporting Colombian unions’ efforts to organize flower growers. See for example, the International Union of Food Workers  http://www.iuf.org.uk/en/.

[2] http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/papers/workcolb/129e4.htm#h5

[3]For example, see a compelling article that is unfortunately from 1995: http://pangaea.org/street_children/latin/flower.htm  that asserts the use of child labor in the industry, even though Cactus, the Colombian NGO, says that illegal child labor has been eliminated http://www.globalmarch.org/cl-around-the-world/accusations-in-full-flower.php3.

Another recent online article cites Love, Women and Flowers as if it were a recent production:

[4]For a clear example of the confusion of Colombia and Ecuador see http://www.campaignforlaborrights.org/alerts/2003/may14-flowers.htm. This is particularly a problem for Colombians who resent Northamericans’ (as they call US nationals) tendency to ignore even the obvious differences across Latin American countries.

[5] http://www.laborrights.org/press/flowers_ABC_Feb04.htm

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Erik van Berkum

Erik is a Dutchman currently living in Osaka Japan.

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