Ethical flowers ~ Not all flowers smell as sweet!

ethical flowers

The darker side of the beautiful things

I love receiving flowers, who doesn’t. For me it is the beautiful reminder that the person who gave you them had picked them just for you.  They are the most beautiful present that nature provides for us.

But I recently discovered that not all flowers are equal,especially for the people that are growing or cutting them. Just like food and animal produce flowers are an agricultural product. This means that the are a variety of things to consider when picking a bunch of roses for your loved one.

Where are flowers grown?

Firstly we need to look at where the flowers are grown. I like to think of local flower farms (which we do have a few that I will talk about later) but the reality is that 80% of our flowers in the UK are imported from countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Vietnam and Kenya.

Flowers are big business for these countries. The Netherlands are one of the largest exporters of cut flowers. a staggering two thirds of European flowers are traded through their flower auctions. Kenya has the perfect climate and soil for many of our best loved flowers ironically this includes the “English Rose”

In Kenya many of the people that work on the flower farms are women. They work long hours with little pay to support their families. With little to no savings they have very little choice but to continue in this job for the rest of their lives. Flowers coming from Africa make up 10% of their total export, second only to tea.

However, there has been some debate in the past as to whether this was actually a better option in terms of the carbon footprint generated by growing flowers. Some people argue that the carbon footprint of flowers grown in Kenya for example, is actual lower than those grown in the UK. This is due to the energy it takes to heat artificial greenhouses to create the perfect growing climate. 

Exploitation of workers

In Colombia for example one in one hundred people work in the flower industry. while thousands more depend on the flower industry to support their jobs. Unfortunately these woman work in atrocious conditions. Many people describe the working conditions as exploitation even slavery. These women are subject to long hours, excessive physical work and often sexual abuse by the owners of the land and flower farms. 

Unfortunately it is not just women that are subject to these conditions. There are also child labour issues in certain flower supply markets, most commonly roses.  Several farms have been reported fro child slavery often with charities having to enter the farms to rescue the children. An example of this is IJM’s rescue of children from an Indian roses farm. Although this case was a few years ago slaver is still rife through out the flower industry.



The production of flowers produce pesticides and water pollution often in counties with out the means to effectively handle these waste products. While food products must keep with in certain limits as they will be consumed by humans there aren’t the same laws for flowers. The flower industry is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides in the world. Pesticides also don’t just run off flowers into the local soils. As much as 90% of the applied pesticides evaporate and travel on average 1500 miles adding to wider spread air pollution and public health issues.

Even once the flowers reach their destination their is still an excessive amount of non biodegradable waste produced. The oasis that the flowers often sit in is non-biodegradable, oil-derived plastic material that is made with carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde, phenol and heptane. This will just go to land fill and breakdown into smaller, micro plastics going back into the soil and the food chain. The average bouquet is wrapped in 75cm of plastic and the small plastic sachets of flower food that are sellotaped to each beautiful bouquet all add to the waste created by flowers.

Where can you buy ethical flowers?

Even this is debatable subject. ‘Ethical Flowers’ are still often wrapped in plastic, they still come with plastic sachets of flower food and sometimes are still flown in from different countries. So I encourage people to research which flowers fall with in their own ethics.

There are nearly 70,000 flower workers working with Fairtrade to get a better deal. They grow, harvest, pack and care for the flowers so you can enjoy them all year round.

Fairtrade flowers are traceable back to the original farm. Fairtrade certified farms must ensure safety and working conditions for their employees. These farms receive a premium of 10% for every stem sold, which allows workers to invest in healthcare, education and other social benefits. Fairtrade works with flower workers in countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Uganda and Tanzania.

 A total of 90 million Fairtrade certified stems are sold in the UK each year, from roses to lilies, carnations to poinsettias. Many of the major supermarkets and stockists offer Fairtrade flowers…. these include…

  • Aldi: Look for the Fairtrade mark
  • Asda: Look for the Fairtrade mark
  • Co-op: 100% Fairtrade stem roses
  • Euroflorist: Selling through 54,000 independent florists
  • Interflora: Selling Fairtrade flowers seasonally
  • M&S: Fairtrade rose and lily bouquets
  • Moonpig: Fairtrade bouquets sent by post
  • Sainsbury’s: UK’s largest retailer of Fairtrade flowers

Alternatives to this are to look for pick your own flower farms close to where you live. We are lucky that we have a few to choose from and it makes a great day out with your family as well

Take a look at  Sopley farm in Christchurch, Dorset who have stunning flower and yummy home grown veg through out the year.


Are there any places local to you that you could pick your own flowers?