Some popular Valentine’s Day gifts not so sweet when it comes to labor issues – National Consumers League

This February 14th, millions of lucky loved ones will be receiving chocolate and flowers, the ubiquitous staples of Valentine’s Day gift giving. But the beautiful flowers and delicious chocolates we all enjoy this time of year often come at the expense of exploited adult workers or child laborers in the cocoa and flower industries.

Flower farm abuses

Valentine’s Day accounts for 40 percent of annual fresh flower sales in the United States. To meet the holiday’s huge demand for flowers, flower retailers regularly purchases large amounts of flowers from farms in Ecuador and Cuba. According to, two-thirds of flower farm workers in these countries are women. The women are routinely forced to work 80-hour weeks with no overtime pay, are subjected to harassment and abuse from male supervisors, and often suffer from health problems such as eye infections and miscarriages brought on by prolonged contact with dangerous pesticides. Despite these well-documented abuses, 1-800-Flowers (the largest florist in the world), has so far refused to offer consumers Fair Trade flowers that require farms to adhere to certain worker’s rights standards. Concerned consumers can sign’s petition urging 1-800-Flowers to sell Fair Trade flowers by clicking here and those who want no part in the exploitation of women can buy their flowers from local farmers or from competitors, such as Whole Foods and Stop & Shop, that sell Fair Trade flowers.

Forced and child labor at cocoa plants

The cocoa industry has its own record of worker abuse and exploitation. Since 2001, cocoa produced from West Africa has fallen under great scrutiny because of allegations that children are involved in harvesting the crop under sometimes harsh conditions. The U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor includes cocoa from five countries, including the Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, the U.S. Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor,” and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Just last month, two Ivory Coast workers died while loading cocoa onto a United States-bound ship because they were overworked and never received proper training. The disappointing labor rights record throughout the West African cocoa industry has prompted the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University to urge chocolate companies to take responsibility for their supply chains by working to ensure labor rights compliance and implementing traceability systems for their cocoa supply chains. Hershey has so far has remained conspicuously absent from labor rights discussions and has made no effort to help ensure the safety of its cocoa suppliers despite posting record earnings in 2010. Click here to sign a petition to urge Hershey to support Fair Trade certified cocoa.