Flowers from Colombia are grown in blood, according to a small delegation from that country asking Canadians to think twice about the origin of flowers they buy for Valentine’s Day.
It’s the blood of women and children as young as 10, who work in slave labour conditions in sprawling greenhouses around the capital. They arrive from all over the country to package beauty, working long hours for little pay, no guaranteed labour rights and health problems that include infertility, lung disorders, joint issues and cancer.
“It is essentially slave labour,” Yolanda Becerra Vega, director of the Popular Women’s Organization, said yesterday in an interview. The Amnesty International-sponsored delegation is here to plead with Canadian parliamentarians to reject the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, signed last November and expected to be introduced in the House soon.
Becerra Vega is recognized internationally for human rights work in a country where grassroots activists are regularly targeted by death squads.
“Flowers come from my country with blood,” said Omar Fernandez Obregon, a Franciscan brother, teacher and rights activist. “I say to Canadians, it’s the same as buying from South Africa during the time of apartheid.”
Florists may not know the origin of the cut flowers they sell and, during such a romantic week as this, who wants to spoil the mood by thinking about the little hands of children struggling to bundle flowers or women unable to have babies?
Try, urges the Colombian delegation. Ask questions.
The trip is about more than flowers. The delegates argue the free trade deal will increase exploitation of workers in many sectors and lead to further expropriation of land for the mass, foreign-owned agri-businesses that destroy traditional life.