Kenya: Concerted Campaign Helps Women in Flower Industry Get a Better Deal


This Valentine’s Day florists are predicting sales of USD$95 million in the UK alone. But where do they all come from? Kenya is second only to the Netherlands for flower imports to the UK , with a total of 13,013 tons per year. And because of globalisation and global value chains, the Netherlands itself imports most of its flowers from Kenya, with an estimated value of USD$1 billion in 2016. In Kenya, growth in the volume and value of flower exports led to it moving from 3.6% to 8.1% of world exports between 2001 and 2016. Most exports are to the Netherlands and the UK. An estimated 100,000 tons of flowers leave Kenya every year for these two markets. Over a 132,000 tons are exported worldwide every year. In recent years Kenya has moved away from exporting lower value to higher value stems and bouquets. One of the groups of people to benefit from the burgeoning industry have been women. They form an estimated 75% of workers at production level in Kenya and have seen some positive improvements in their employment conditions and rights over the years. But it hasn’t been an easy journey. At the outset women faced systemic inequalities which made them vulnerable workers. These included poor labour conditions, the violation of health and safety rules and sexual harassment. The product upgrading, along with concerted campaigns by human rights activists, NGOs, trade unions and the buy-in of business led to a sea change in the women’s working conditions. The reforms show that when a broad range of stakeholders come together substantive changes can be made in favour of vulnerable women workers. In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights , big corporations can be transformative in contributing to social justice for women workers. In a collaborative effort, the business community has a great opportunity to step in and lead the change. A long struggle for rights In the early 2000s NGOs, human rights, civil society and trade union organisations in Kenya and Europe campaigned over poor labour conditions for women workers. These included women workers on constantly renewed temporary contracts, violations of health and safety rules in greenhouses and endemic sexual harassment by male supervisors. In addition there were also often demands for unplanned overtime because of last-minute orders placed by buying companies. This caused childcare problems. Women were also subject to additional risks such as sexual harassment and long hours and night time journeys to and from work. The range of actors involved in the campaign brought a raft of changes across the industry. Sound gender policies on workers’ rights, training, promotion and grievance procedures were introduced. Social auditing involving local NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations helped identify specific issues facing women workers on particular farms. Thanks to specific gender policies on workers’ rights and grievance programmes, as well as to a decisive product upgrading, many Kenyan flower growers underwent a crucial switch from temporary to permanent contracts . This […]