AWCFS: All is not lost for women in lucrative flower business

May 27, 2019

By Joyce Chimbi. This article was first published on Kenyan Woman, a monthly online newspaper produced by the Women@Work Campaign partner African Woman and Child Feature Service.

The Women@Work Campaign remains at the forefront of advocating for the implementation of women labor rights that include maternity protection, equal pay, fair distribution of labor and decent working hours.

Placing the spotlight on the horticultural industry is important because it is the fastest growing and most profitable sector. There is extensive labor and value addition within the sector including cultivation of fruits, vegetables and flowers. According to the Kenya Flower Council, “the country is a lead exporter of roses to the European markets with a significant market share estimated at 38 percent”.

As a reflection of the extent to which the industry is viable and profitable, Kenya exports flowers to at least 60 countries. While there has been extensive documentation of what has gone wrong in the flower farms, enough has not been said about what has gone right.

Human rights and labor rights law

Mary Kambo KHRC
Mary Kambo from the Kenya Human Rights Commission

On women’s rights and their participation in the horticulture industry, Kenya is moving in the right direction. “A robust framework in Kenya exists through the labor laws and key provisions in the constitution. But it is not enough to have laws on paper. There is a need to go to the next level and look at the more imperative issue of implementation,” says Mary Kambo from the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
However, she says Kenya is not only making progress with regard to locally enacted laws but also in relation to international labor laws. “Kenya has this far ratified seven of the eight international labor laws. This is a very positive step in the right direction,” she adds.
Kambo says international labor laws and conventions are key because they complement local laws. “International conventions on labor rights recognize the need to view labor as an issue of human rights and dignity, and not as a commodity.”
She says that ratified international conventions provide a good foundation on which to push for more humane treatment of women workers.

Other legal successes

Efforts that FIDA-Kenya has made towards an encompassing and robust legal framework cannot be overemphasized. Even though the women lawyers have on several occasions pointed out how poor implementation of laws have let women down, it remains one their best hopes in improving their situation.

FIDA-Kenya says “companies have adopted internal policies to deal with workers’ rights and obligations. These policies are to a large extent informed by laws and codes of practice applicable to different workplaces. Most women workers reported that they receive house and medical allowance.”

FIDA-Kenya says a bigger proportion of women interviewed during their study indicated they had gone on maternity leave with full pay. This is a major progress.

Human rights and business

Stephen Irungu from Ufadhili Trust

More flower farms are realizing that achieving their targets and the profit margins does not have to be at the expense of human rights, says Anthony Wambua from Haki Mashinani. This realization is anchored on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The Women@Work Campaign has called for reforms to address the plight of women who work in the flower sector and continue to encourage the horticultural industry to embrace the human rights business model.
“When you take care of the people who work for you by respecting their rights and particularly the rights of the many women, addressing their problems and treating them with dignity, this will make your business even more profitable,” explains Steven Irungu from Ufadhili Trust.
“At Ufadhili Trust,’’ he adds, ‘’we address many issues including sexual harassment, pay, health and safety, gender equality and social security. The more these issues are in tandem with the business model, the more people feel respected and dignified. The result is their willingness to deliver.”