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All This For Selling Flowers ...

maqui | 13.05.2006 16:53 | Repression | Zapatista | London | World

On Friday 12th May, several activists and human rights campaigners, including people from different groups such as the London Zapatista Action Project (z.a.p.), Bristol Solidarity group Kiptik and the Comite Cerezo support group in the U.K, staged a peaceful occupation and noise demonstration at the Mexican Embassy in London [Photos and Report]. Four people locked on in front of the Embassy, effectively closing it down for business for most of the day. Meanwhile a Samba band was playing whilst other activists held banners referring to the events that have been taking place in San Salvador de Atenco, northern Mexico [Press Release]. Another protest outside the Mexican embassy had already taken place on Wednesday 10th [Pics and Report]. The Electronic Disturbance Theater and the Borderlands Hacklab also called for a virtual strike against the Mexican Government on May 5th.

Last week, residents of Atenco, a municipality near Mexico City, suffered massive police brutality and repression, after local organisations helped 60 flower vendors of the Texcoco local market to resist a blockade by state police that prevented them from setting up their stands. People from Atenco quickly responded by obstructing the highway that borders their town and leads to Texcoco market. The events that followed speak of unprecedented levels of police brutality. More than 3000 armed police forces stormed the town beating everyone in their path [Photos: 1 | 2 | 3 | Videos: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4] and arrested more than 200 people after a house to house search around the town. Francisco Javier Cort�s, a 14 year old local boy, was killed as a result of police violence on the first day, and many were severely injured. Since then there have been reports that a total of up to 300 people were arrested (of which the authorities have only recognised 109), 18 people were disappeared, 5 women were raped whilst in custody, and 5 foreigners deported.

Reports in the IMC-UK newswire by: Global Exchange | The Other Campaign Montreal | Irene of Mexico City | Erika Del Carmen Fuchs from Mexico DF | Kasa de Kultura para Tod@s | Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group.
Follow the unfolding events in: Narconews Bulletin | IMC-Chiapas | IMC-Mexico | IMC-UK Zapatista Page
Radio webstream with daily reports (Sp): Ke-Huelga Radio Zapote

Dead serious.
Dead serious.

San Salvador de Atenco made the news across Mexico in 2002 after having resisted the forced displacement of their community to make way for a new Mexico City Airport [Video]. Villagers, mostly small farmers, formed the People's Front in Defense of Land (Frente del Pueblo en Defensa de La Tierra) an organisation that has subscribed the Zapatistas Sixth Declaration, and is actively participating in the The Other Campaign.

As a result of these recent events, the EZLN has temporarily suspended The Other Campaign proceedings, which was due to visit Atenco a few days after the first police attack, and it has put all its guerrilla troops on Red Alert. The Zapatistas (including Sub Marcos) that have been travelling the country meeting grass roots oganisations to "build an anti-capitalist movement from below and to the left in Mexico and beyond", have joined the protests in and around Atenco demanding the release of all those arrested [video] whilst stating that they will take part in these mobilisations for as long as it takes [Marcos' call to action]. They also announced that they will not re-estart their route across Mexico until the sitution is resolved.



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Fair Trade Flowers - Comment

19.05.2006 19:57

I felt this relevant comment about the flower industry from the Grauniad 2005
( Caveat: OK it's consumerist but some of the info is useful ) is worth posting here - another crack in the fair trade market niche like the profits not being passed on - unless you happen to be a large supermarket..I've worked in the pesticide ridden flower crop fields in this country \( piece work ) and it is fucking horrible work - even in the dusty bulb sheds and packing sheds
( the waged ( not a 'living one' plum' jobs ) - shit trade. Grow your own.

Why I won't be giving my mother Fairtrade flowers

Ethical consumers shouldn't bear the cost of decent labour rights

Felicity Lawrence
Saturday March 5, 2005
The Guardian

It ought to have been a joyous announcement for someone like me who buys Fairtrade coffee and uses the swirly Fairtrade logo on Green and Black's chocolate bars to justify regular indulgence. At last Tesco was introducing a Fairtrade rose that would remove the guilt from Mother's Day.
The guilt dates back to revelations about shocking conditions in the cut flower industry in Africa and Latin America - workers' health ruined by pesticides on intensive farms, women forced to stand in cold packing sheds snipping blooms for up to 18 hours at a time to meet western demand in peak periods, when everyone must have the exactly the same floral tribute on exactly the same day. It made brandishing a bouquet a worry.

Then last year Tesco boasted it would sell the UK's first ever Fairtrade flowers, as part of a new own-label range that guaranteed "a better deal for small producers in the developing world". These blood-red roses would not be the product of sweat and toil in the southern hemisphere, but shoppers would pay a premium to help "farmers" and "producers" and make a real difference to the "communities" where the goods were produced.
So who were the farmers and producers? Well, there are two of them producing Fairtrade flowers for Tesco. They farm intensively on the shores of Lake Naivasha, a stunning freshwater lake in Kenya's Great Rift Valley. I visited this former Masai grazing land two years ago to interview migrant workers, most of them women, many young mothers.

Neither of these Tesco Fairtrade producers, Finlay Flowers and Oserian, are "small". Oserian, a Dutch company, employing about 4,500 workers, also supplies Sainsbury's with Fairtrade flowers. Finlay Flowers has 2,500 workers.

The African communities here, in so far as they currently exist, are not the villages many shoppers paying a Fairtrade premium might expect but large clusters of migrants in shanty housing, sucked into the area by work in the horticultural companies. Many live in housing provided by the large farms.

Making life better for them is as much an issue of labour rights as community development. And a campaign that brought in the Ethical Trading Initiative, and predated the arrival of Fairtrade, has been working hard for more than two years to strengthen labour rights across the whole flower sector here, not just on a couple of farms. Thanks to a collective effort by importing companies in the UK and workers' groups and businesses in Kenya, it has made great progress. Two years ago, workers from many of the export companies routinely complained of excessive hours, casual contracts that meant they could be laid off without notice, poor and overcrowded housing, dangerous transport and sexual harassment; but now most say conditions have improved dramatically.

One of the remaining bones of contention is compulsory overtime, particularly around periods of peak demand in the west, such as Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and Christmas. On the Fairtrade farms, overtime during these peaks is also a serious issue, as the Fairtrade Foundation freely admits. We have not changed our lemming-like buying habits, and supermarkets still leave it till the last minute to confirm the volume of their orders, making it difficult for the companies to plan effectively.

No surprise that the UK's largest retailer should be showing off its new and rapidly conceived union with the Fairtrade rose. Tesco was pleased it had beaten other retailers, such as the Co-op, which had looked at the idea but was taking longer to consult about it.

For the Fairtrade movement, the rose marks a turning point, a diversion down a road which, for the first time, I do not want to travel.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am still an ardent supporter of Fairtrade goods. The movement's achievements since its launch in 1994 have been astonishing. It has helped make what once seemed remote issues of international trade and development immediate and understandable. It has given consumers who felt powerless to influence commodity markets or corporate practices a way of making their views heard. If Tesco wants to be the "biggest seller of Fairtrade products in the UK", as it now tells us, it is because shoppers have been able through the Fairtrade mark to show big business that they hold it to account for the conditions in which their goods are produced. There are many genuinely small producers for whom Fairtrade makes all the difference.

But Fairtrade now faces the dilemma the organic movement had to face 10 years ago. If it wants to go mainstream, it has no choice but to deal with the big supermarkets because they have such a stranglehold on the market. If it does deal with them, it has to bow to the methods of production they impose. If supermarkets double the orders for Mother's Day, then Fairtrade will have to run shifts as long as needed to fulfil them.

The organic movement has seen that this route to the mainstream can threaten its founding environmental principles, as organic carrots are flown in by polluting air freight and trucked around the country to meet the demands of big retailers for year-round supplies. It has also found itself squeezed to breaking point, as supermarkets use their buying power to force down prices and pay less than the cost of production for organic milk.

The Fairtrade movement will have to confront the possibility that organising labour across a whole sector to face up to these sorts of pressures may do more good than singling out individual producers and asking consumers to pay more.

The British retail flower market is worth £1.5bn. Supermarket margins on cut flowers are high - Tesco made profits of over£2bn profits last year. There is plenty of money being made out of roses. Why should decent housing, reasonable hours and sufficient pay for workers to afford schooling not be agreed as part of the cost of production, and paid by companies that are doing so well out of the trade?

If we are not careful, we will find the burden of behaving decently has been thrown back to the shopper. We will be offered a choice of one shelf full of more expensive goods for those rich enough to take their morals shopping and a shelf next door of bargain goods produced without worker's rights for those who don't care or can't afford to care. Then the supermarkets will be able to say: "Ethics? we just do what our customers want."

So I will still buy my Fairtrade coffee and bananas, knowing that my premium can help small farmers whom globalisation threatens to marginalise. But when it comes to flowers, I'm afraid I am walking on by. There are other symbols of love after all - didn't someone mention luxury chocolate?

· Felicity Lawrence is the Guardian's consumer affairs correspondent and the author of Not on the Label

mark r pen