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Say it with Flowers: Working with Industry to Reconsider the Ethics of the Flower Supply Chain

Dr David Bek, Research Fellow, Centre for Business in Society

Dr Annie Bryan, Research Impact Officer at Coventry University

Dr Jill Timms, Associate, Centre for Business in Society and Senior Lecture, School of Strategy and Leadership 

Weddings, funerals, Valentine’s Day- we buy flowers to show that we care on all sorts of occasions. But where do these flowers come from in the first place? Who has produced them, what are their working conditions like ,and what are the impacts upon the environment? And what information is available to consumers to make informed choices about the flowers they buy?

These are the kind of questions which Dr Jill Timms and Dr David Bek, of the Centre for Business in Society, set out to explore during a recent stakeholder networking event held at Coventry.[i] The event tied in with their project to promote ethical flowers for improved working conditions in supply chains, which was the subject of a previous CURB blog post. The researchers invited representatives from different parts of the cut flower supply chain to come and debate key issues around sustainability and certification.

Group 2_AB

The event attracted visitors from a wide range of organisations, such as supermarkets, certification bodies, importers, grower associations, civil society groups, independent florists and their official representative body, the British Florist Association. Participants also offered perspectives from a variety of international contexts, with colleagues working in countries including the UK, The Netherlands, South Africa, Zambia and Kenya. This range of perspectives enabled the group to consider both initiatives supporting locally sourced flowers, as well as those aiming to improve conditions for workers in developing nations.

Jill with certificates 2_AB

There were some lively debates about who should be responsible for, and who should pay for, ethics and sustainability within the flower supply chain. A recurring theme was certification: would better labelling of flowers to show the standards they have met, such as “Fairtrade”, help consumers to make informed choices about the blooms they buy? And does this kind of certification really help to improve working conditions for those involved in flower supply chains or the environmental impact of flower production? Are there better waysLeaflets AB of raising standards and increasing transparency across the industry than relying on standards and certifications?

Although there are no easy answers to these questions, the workshop provided a rare and valuable opportunity for key stakeholders within the industry to engage in dialogue and discussion with those from different parts of the supply chain they usually do not encounter. Events such as these are also an excellent way to ensure that Coventry’s research is having an impact beyond the University. Participants will report back to the researchers on the ways in which their thinking and professional practices have changed as a result of the workshop, as well as having the chance to influence and participate in the next stages of the research. The participants were greatly enthused by the opportunity to share ideas and expressed interest in being involved in future events with a view to developing a joint agenda to progress the industry’s approach to sustainability challenges.

Consumers, too, have an important role to play here. While we’re used to products such as coffee and wine being certified to reflect ethical standards, generally people don’t expect the same when it comes to flowers. So, next time you’re buying a bunch or a bouquet, don’t hesitate to ask the seller where and how they were sourced. By doing this, consumers can show that they care- not only about the people they’re buying flowers for, but also about the workers who supply them.

[i] The organisers are grateful to Coventry University for IMPAKT-SS funding to facilitate this event, developing Knowledge Exchange in Social Science disciplines towards REF Impact case studies.

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