Really interesting, and I think even-handed, article in The Smithsonian about the flower industry in Colombia, which is huge (and, if the article is accurate, largely initiated in the late 1960s by an American horticulture grad student). Basically, conditions are not great but have been improving a lot. The practical lesson is that you should look for flowers that are certified, which means they were grown with labor protections and in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The global marketplace will always demand cheaper flowers, and Colombian farms must compete with growers in other nations, including neighboring Ecuador and rising flower power Kenya. Increasingly, though, there’s another factor flower growers must consider: independent flower certification programs, including Fair Trade flowers, VeriFlora and the Rainforest Alliance, which are working to certify farms in Colombia.
Such programs have been key to Colombia’s business in Europe, where customers pay close attention to the source of their flowers. The U.S. trade in certified flowers is tiny by comparison—my Mother’s Day bouquet bore no certification notice—but growing. “Sustainability is an attribute that consumers are seeking,” says Linda Brown, creator of the certification standards for VeriFlora, which is based in Emeryville, California. “When you are looking 10 to 20 years out, sustainability will become the way that people do business.”