Flowers handed to mothers this Sunday will come from workers in developing countries who have risked their health for unsafe, insecure jobs supplying UK supermarkets, a new report suggests.
'Growing Pains' by anti-poverty charity War on Want investigates the human cost of cut flowers in British supermarkets, and calls on consumers to buy fair-trade flowers.
Supermarkets sell 70% of all the flowers bought in the UK - the highest proportion in Europe. But the workers in Colombia and Kenya supplying those flowers to the supermarkets face low wages, health problems and miscarriages through exposure to pesticides the report alleges.
Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's are all named as sources from one or both of these countries. The report suggests that they have enormous influence over flower producers and ultimately the health and safety of workers.
Many UK businesses have adopted voluntary standards for their suppliers, but these are still failing to protect the health and safety of workers, the charity says.
War on Want is calling on the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alistair Darling to urge the government to introduce binding legislation to enforce corporate accountability. This, campaigners say, should give overseas workers the right of redress in the UK, i.e. the ability to seek compensation for damage to their health and loss of earnings as the result of actions of UK companies or their suppliers.
Flowers are likely to be the most popular Mother's Day gift with £225m lavished on seven million bunches.
Although shoppers are increasingly aware of the environmental damage caused by pesticides and air miles, the report said they were "largely unaware" of the human price paid for their flowers by workers in poor countries.
A study of 8,000 flower workers in Bogota in 2002 found they had been exposed to 127 different pesticides, one fifth banned in the US for their toxicity.
Colombian flower workers - 65 per cent of whom are women - are being paid 50p an hour. In Kenya, the wage is £23 a month. Overtime is "compulsory" and workers have to put in longer hours in the run-up to celebrations such as Mother's Day. Sexual harassment is "widespread".