Thorns amongst the roses. A Cross-country analysis of human rights issues in flower farms in East Africa

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Floriculture is one of Africa’s most lucrative export sectors and can bring significant benefits to producer communities, but only where operations are conducted in a manner that is sustainable and respectful of the rights of workers and communities.

Thorns Amongst the Roses summarises the human rights impacts that the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), the Global Horticultural Workers and Environmental Rights Network (GHOWERN), and other research institutes, have observed in the flower growing and cutting industries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. These impacts are placed within a business and human rights framework, wherein the legal source for relevant rights are outlined and further detail is provided on the context in which rights can be affected. Principle findings include:

  • Sexual harassment of workers is a widespread and ongoing problem in flower farms worldwide.
  • The industry’s predominant employment of women renders it necessary to address  gender-specific issues that impact on a woman’s ability to work.
  • Working on flower farms can entail health risks for workers.
  • The flower industry can adversely impact on its immediate and the wider environment.
  • Many flower farms hire at least some of their workers on temporary or casual contracts.
  • Flower farm workers often say that their wages are not enough to live on.
  • Freedom of association in flower farms can be violated both directly and indirectly.
  • Children’s rights can be both directly and indirectly affected by the practices of the flower farming sector.
  • Land-grabbing has become an increasingly contentious issue and is linked to a number of potential rights violations.
  • Tax justice is a crucial for flower producing states as tax structures can limit tax payments, depriving them of much needed resources.

The paper concludes that, as with all industry and business practices, those engaged in the horticultural industry can gain a great deal of insight by looking at social and environmental issues through a human rights lens. Stakeholders can be affected by the horticultural industry in number of profound and multi-faceted ways. Failure to do human rights due diligence to identify and address any potential negative impacts on stakeholders not only risks violating international human rights standards but will undermine both a business’s workers and the communities surrounding its operations. It therefore ultimately undermines the sustainability of a company’s business model itself.

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