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Monday, 12 May, 2003, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Concerns grow over flower farms
Carnation field by lake
UK supermarkets are big buyers of Kenyan flowers
BBC One's Real Story goes to Kenya to expose the cheap labour, health risks and environmental damage at farms which supply supermarket flowers to the UK.

The flower farms around Lake Naivasha are set in beautiful scenery with prolific wildlife.

But for the men and women who work on them life is an endless grind.

They travel to work in the early morning in company trucks that are grossly overcrowded, causing some to faint.

In huge greenhouses, often in sweltering heat, they tend miles of plants which are sprayed regularly with toxic pesticides.

Kenyan worker bunching roses
Preparing roses for a long flight
For a six-day week, the best wage they can expect is about 1.50 a day.

Kenya exports 35,000 tonnes of cut flowers to Europe, putting it only behind Colombia and Israel for global flower exports, and giving it 60% of the US $165 million African flower trade.

So who profits?

Almost half is creamed off by the supermarkets. After extra costs such as transport and VAT, the workers get about 1/700 th of what customers pay in the supermarkets.

The farms say this is above the Kenyan minimum wage but it does not comply with the Ethical Trading Initiative, supported by some British supermarkets.

Toxic chemicals

Louise, who works on a farm which supplies Marks and Spencers, Sainsburys and Tesco, told the programme she has to borrow money to survive.

A cousin of mine partially lost his eyesight because he was a sprayer

Jonathan, flower worker
"My wage isn't enough to buy myself clothes, to buy my children clothes and to buy different types of food."

Another complaint from the workers is that the toxic chemicals in the pesticides they are exposed to are affecting their health.

Rashes, chest complaints, nausea, and even miscarriage, have been associated with spraying.

Supermarkets informed

A worker called Jonathan told Real Story: "The coughing is very serious and a cousin of mine partially lost his eyesight because he was a sprayer."

The programme also heard that following the spraying of Lannate, a World Health Organisation Class 1b chemical, the designated re-entry periods for greenhouse workers are not properly observed.

Last autumn some of the workers' complaints were put to executives from supermarkets, including Tesco and Marks and Spencers, through the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI).

Checks 'not working'

The stores, who do not own the farms, say they are trading ethically, while the Kenya flower farmers' association says its members abide by relevant safety and labour codes.

But chairman of the ETI, Alan Roberts, is returning to Kenya this week as he believes conditions at the farms are not being properly monitored.

"When we interviewed the workers the facts were fundamentally different to what the auditors were coming up with.

"The workers were complaining of excessive overtime, poor wage levels, lack of protective equipment. They are concerned that their working conditions are far from acceptable."

Real Story: Monday, 12 May, 1930 GMT, on BBC One and the Real Story website.

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05 Apr 01 | Africa
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