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How Colombian Flower Workers Make Valentine’s Day Possible

Feb 14, 2024

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Boundless team! Valentine’s Day is a time to show appreciation for the loved ones in your life, often in the form of gifts, such as cards, chocolate, and flowers.

But did you know that the majority of Valentine’s Day bouquets in the United States are made by Colombian agricultural workers?

In the early 1900’s, most Americans bought flowers from local growers, but in the 1960’s, the flower agricultural industry migrated to Colombia, due to the country’s long hours of sunlight and lower minimum-wage earnings for labor.

By 1980, Colombia became one of the world’s leading flower exporters, second only to the Netherlands, with 80% of flowers going to markets in the U.S. Today, Colombia’s floriculture sector produces $1.5 billion in exports each year.

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Despite the booming industry, labor and living conditions for Colombian flower workers are poor. Women make up 65% of Colombia’s floriculture workforce, and many report working over 80 hours a week to meet the high demand for flowers. Work-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and torn rotator cuffs, as well as workplace harassment are common.

In the 1990s, union organizations in Colombia started “Flower Workers’ Day,” to protest harsh working conditions and minimum wage earnings on the flower industry’s biggest day of the year: February 14.

International human rights organizations, like Witness for Peace (WFP), have pushed to make Colombian flower workers’ grievances heard, and raise awareness in the U.S. about where our flowers come from.

“There is often no awareness of how these flowers make it to our local Walmart,” says Evan King, a former program director for WFP. “When people go to the store and buy flowers from Colombia, we want people to know exactly what that means.”

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