Les fleurs du mal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 13 07:59:10 MST 2003


NY Times, Feb. 13, 2003
Behind Roses' Beauty, Poor and Ill Workers
By GINGER THOMPSON

CAYAMBE, Ecuador, Feb. 10 — In just five years, Ecuadorean roses, as big 
and red as the human heart, have become the new status flower in the 
United States, thanks to the volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and 
abundant sunlight that help generate $240 million a year and tens of 
thousands of jobs in this once-impoverished region north of Quito.

This St. Valentine's Day, hundreds of American florists and catalogs are 
offering the roses of this fertile valley. Calyx & Corolla, for 
instance, bills it as a place "where Andean mists and equatorial sun 
conspire to produce roses that quickly burst into extravagant bloom, 
then hold their glory long after lesser specimens have begun to droop."

But roses come with thorns, too. As Ecuador's colorful blooms radiate 
romance around the world, large growers here have been accused of 
misusing a toxic mixture of pesticides, fungicides and fumigants to grow 
and export unblemished pest-free flowers.

As in other industries like garment production, bananas and diamonds, 
the poor worry about eating first and labor conditions later. They toil 
here despite headaches and rashes here for the wealthier of the world, 
who in turn know little of the conditions in which their desires are met.

Doctors and scientists who have worked here say serious health problems 
have resulted for many of the industry's 50,000 workers, more than 70 
percent of them women. Researchers say their work is hampered by lack of 
access to flower farms because of reluctant growers. But studies that 
the International Labor Organization published in 1999 and the Catholic 
University issued here last year showed that women in the industry had 
more miscarriages than average and that more than 60 percent of all 
workers suffered headaches, nausea, blurred vision or fatigue.

"No one can speak with conclusive facts in hand about the impact of this 
industry on the health of the workers, because we have not been able to 
do the necessary studies,"said Dr. Bolívar Vera, a health specialist at 
the Health Environment and Development Foundation in Quito. "So the 
companies have been able to wash their hands of the matter."

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/international/americas/13ROSE.html

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