Lorena never wanted to work in the cut-flower industry. But when she gave birth to the first of two daughters at the age of 19, she understood she needed the money. In the region of Colombia where Lorena has spent her entire life known as the Bogotá Savanna—cut flowers are king. “There’s no other work, no other industry here,” she told me when I visited her this spring. As a single mother, Lorena had few alternatives but to enter the vast farms and factories, where she cut, trimmed, and arranged carnations, alstroemerias, and roses for export to flower-hungry US consumers. . . . .
. . . . . . . Work in the cut-flower industry is notoriously dangerous. Flowers are fickle and sensitive to pests and disease. To protect their investments, companies pump highly toxic pesticides and fungicides into the greenhouses where flowers are grown. Twenty percent of these chemicals are so toxic and carcinogenic that they’re prohibited in North America and Europe. As a result, workers often suffer from rashes, headaches, impaired vision, and skin discoloration. Women, who make up 70 percent of the cut flower workforce in Colombia, report substantially higher instances of birth defects and miscarriages.