Lydia López González’s day typically starts at 3:30am. That gives the 47-year-old single mother from Facatativá, central Colombia, time to make breakfast and lunch for her daughter before leaving for the flower fields at 5am.
“I don’t like leaving her, but what else can I do? Anyway, I’m usually back by 5pm. Many of the other women don’t get home until midnight”, she says.
González is one of tens of thousands of workers in Colombia’s Savanna de Bogotá region working to produce the carnations, roses and other flowers hitting UK shelves this Valentine’s Day. Behind the beautiful bouquets, however, lie worrying reports of poor pay, long hours and other systemic labour abuses.
In recent years, Colombia has emerged as the world’s second largest flower exporter, with plane-loads of freshly-cut flowers leaving for the US, UK, Japan and other markets every day. Exports increased by 4.4% between 2013-2014, according to theCactus Corporation, a Bogotá-based campaign group, which claims the industry’s US$1.3bn (2012) annual sale revenues are being bought at the cost of workers’ rights.
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