£2 Valentine flowers poverty alert
13 February 2009
The British supermarket chain Asda came under fire today over claims that workers earn a living wage supplying Valentine's flowers on sale in its stores for £2 a dozen.
Asda insists the roses are ethically sourced from Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, with employees paid a living wage of £35 a month.
But two years ago in the report Growing Pains, the charity War on Want said Kenyan workers cited a living wage as £50 a month.
Now its partner, the Kenyan Women Workers' Organisation, warns that amid rising prices of maize, wheat and rice, workers need well above £50 a month to meet essential household bills and support their families.
A third of all blooms sold in Europe come from Kenya. Most of the country's flower workers are single mothers, struggling to raise children with one income.
Many staff engaged in repeated tasks and exposed to pesticides without adequate protection report sickness, including swollen legs, backache, vomiting and chest pains. Employees are more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries in the run-up to Valentine's Day as they work longer hours to meet heavier demand.
Casualisation of labour is another problem. Three in four Kenyan staff are on temporary contracts that deny them basic employment rights such as maternity leave.
Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Asda's ethical claims for its £2 a dozen roses are a blooming cheek. Most Kenyan women supplying flowers for British supermarkets face hard lives trying to make ends meet on poverty wages. The UK government must show it cares for Kenyan flower workers by introducing regulation to ensure a living wage and decent work."
NEWS HOOK: Valentine's Day Saturday, 14 February 2009