14 Jul 2020

Fairtrade is a Lifeline for Kenyan Flower Workers

Fairtrade certification has been instrumental in supporting Kenyan flower workers through the COVID-19 crisis. Flower farms have spent more than half a million euros in Fairtrade Premium on food packages and hygiene items, benefitting 17,000 people. A further 200,000 euros from Fairtrade relief funds is providing masks and sanitizer. As sales begin to recover, these farms now look to consumers and businesses to choose Fairtrade flowers to keep supporting workers and their families.

Unpaid leave and reduced hours – women often worst affected

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Kenyan flower industry hard”, says Gonzaga Mungai, Fairtrade Africa’s Nairobi-based Flowers Manager. “Planes were grounded and European retailers focussed on selling essential items, meaning sales to our main export market almost dried up completely”. Exports slumped to 20% in April and, while they are now steadily rising (up to 65% in May), the Kenya Flower Council estimates that it will take a year for the sector to recover fully.

Fairtrade Africa estimates that as many as 90% of all flower workers across East Africa have somehow been affected through reduced pay, unpaid leave or loss of job. The impact has been felt across Kenya especially, where the flower sector employs 150,000 people directly and an estimated 2 million indirectly.

Women, who make up around half of the workforce, are bearing the brunt of the crisis. Schools and childcare facilities are still closed, forcing many women to take unpaid leave to look after their children. Few, if any of them have savings to fall back on. Inflated food prices, coupled with the lack of school meals mean they are struggling to feed their families.

Fairtrade Premium enables swift action

Food Parcels distribution at Harvest Limited
Food Parcels distribution at Harvest Limited

Many Fairtrade certified flower farms in Kenya have been able to support workers and their families through this time – thanks to the Fairtrade Premium, the extra sum of money which workers decide collectively how to spend, and Fairtrade’s introduction of more flexibility on its use to enable a swift response to COVID-19. Kenyan flower farms have since spent over half a million euros in Premium money on food packages and hygiene items such as soap and sanitizers to help protect workers’ health. More than 17,000 people - including laid-off workers and people from the surrounding communities - have benefitted.

One of them is Dorcas Nyaboke, a 43-year-old worker at Harvest Limited flower farm, situated on the banks of the Athi River. “When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, this affected us a lot. We stopped exporting flowers because flights were not in operation. Personally, I stayed home for three months”, she explains. The Fairtrade Premium Committee - the elected body of workers who decide how to use the Premium - acted quickly to support. All 373 workers were issued with vouchers to buy flour, cooking oil, sugar, rice and other essentials. “When I received a phone call to come collect a voucher, I was extremely happy,” continues Dorcas, who has two children and one grandchild. “I did some shopping to help me and my family...When I went back home, my children were happy, all of us were happy. Fairtrade has really helped me.”

Harvest Limited - Dorcas
Dorcas from Harvest Limited

Further support through Fairtrade Producer Relief fund

The lockdown is now being eased in Kenya, although COVID-19 cases are still rising. Good hygiene is essential to prevent more cases. But some farms, still recovering from the loss of sales, while also facing rocketing freight costs, are struggling to replenish sanitary essentials such as face masks and sanitiser.

Fairtrade Africa is responding by providing more than €200,000 for these essential hygiene items, which is being distributed to 46 flower farms. The funds come from Fairtrade’s COVID-19 Producer Relief Fund.

Fairtrade sales more important than ever

Moving forward, Fairtrade sales will be key to enable flower farms to continuing weathering the COVID-19 storm, and remain resilient enough to face any future crises.

“Sustainability and ethical trade in the flower supply chain is not just about managing reputational risks, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable people in our supply chain and having the right partners (like Fairtrade) to support workers and drive real change in a crisis” says Jonny Young, Responsible Sourcing & Sustainability Manager, at JZ Flowers.

Some workers are still on unpaid leave, or working reduced hours, meaning they still struggle to meet their basic needs. Many farms have already spent much of their Premium funds and rely on more Fairtrade sales to continue funding food parcels, as well as existing Premium projects such as school bursaries and health clinics.

“Fairtrade has been a lifeline to thousands of flower workers during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Gonzaga Mungai. “We ask people to please keep buying Fairtrade flowers, so that farms can continue supporting workers and their families through this incredibly challenging time”.