Valentine’s Day, second only to Christmas, is the western holiday that causes the most damage to the environment and exploitation of human health and well-being. Regardless of the holiday’s origins or original sentiments, today Valentine’s Day is utilized as a highly commercialized expression of love in many commonwealth countries around the world. What many consumers don’t know is that each of the traditional accoutrements of Valentine’s Day – chocolate, flowers, diamonds, gold and cards –come with a serious impact on the environment.
Many children working on cocoa farms never eat a chocolate bar in their lifetime.
Much of the worlds’ major chocolate ingredient is grown in developing nations by poor farmers. 70% of the world’s cocoa production is grown in West Africa, with the Ivory Coast producing 40% of the world’s estimated 6.5 billion pound crop of cocoa beans. More than half of the country’s 15 million people make a living directly on cocoa according to the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF). The ILRF works to raise awareness about the bitter side of the global chocolate industry. Most of the world’s cocoa production includes child labor and starvation level wages for farmers. ILRF reports children work long hours, face frequent exposure to pesticides and child labor slaves face physical beatings and other cruel treatment. Many children working on cocoa farms never eat a chocolate bar in their lifetimes.
Global Exchange, a global human rights’ organization, reports US chocolate manufacturers have deflected responsibility for the conditions on cocoa plantations, citing lack of ownership of the plantations. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily consolidated with two major American firms — Hershey's and M&M/Mars — controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market.
Fair trade chocolate organizations work to ensure the certified chocolate you buy does not involve slave labor, is pesticide-free, grown and manufactured without genetically modified ingredients, and farmers and cocoa workers receive fair wages. Global Exchange reports currently less than 1% of the $13 billion dollar chocolate market is fair trade certified. However these figures are only expected to increase as consumers become better educated about the ethics of chocolate.
If all the roses purchased for Valentine’s Day in the USA were organically grown, it would prevent the use of 22,700 pounds of pesticides.
US consumers spend more than $18 billion on cut flowers each year reports Labor in the Americas Project. Yet flowers, considered an expression of love, have an ugly side most consumers don’t know about. There are an estimated 40,000 flower workers in Ecuador, and more than 100,000 in Colombia, working to grow, harvest, and package flowers and carnations for North Americans. Flower workers are routinely prevented from organizing unions, experience sexual harassment, forced pregnancy testing, and numerous health and safety violations according to the International Labor Rights Forum.
Flowers are one of the top pesticide-intensive agricultural crops. The Green Book estimates if all the roses purchased for Valentine’s Day in the USA were organically grown, it would prevent the use of 22,700 pounds of pesticides. A joint report between US Labor Education in the Americans and the International Labor Rights Fund found flower companies in Ecuador use more than 30 different chemicals, in addition to fertilizers, in the production of their cut flowers. The report also indicated flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages. This is in addition to inordinately high incidents of headaches, asthma attacks, frequent colds, vomiting and weight loss. In some areas more than 50% of flower workers have symptoms of pesticide poisoning.
A single gold ring leaves behind more than 20 tons of mine waste.
In every area where industrial flower growing takes place, the environmental impact is evidenced through loss of animal and plant species, water resources running out and high levels of deadly chemicals leaching into local water and the surrounding land. In addition to worker’s health concerns and the environmental impact of purchasing non-organic flowers, greenhouse gases produced from the transportation of cut flowers need to be taken into consideration as part of the environmental costs of purchasing flowers for Valentine’s Day. UPS, a North American courier and freight company, shipped more than 14.8 million stems of fresh cut flowers to North America from various South American countries in 2005. From Kenya to Holland to Columbia, the flower industry is having deadly repercussions for the environment.
Diamonds & Gold
More than 4 million people have been killed in diamond-fueled conflict and wars reports Amnesty International. The Conflict Free Diamond Council explains a diamond can be certified conflict free if its profit is not used to fund war, and it is mined and produced under ethical conditions. The certification process involves monitoring a diamond during its entire lifespan, from the mine to the consumer. The majority of blood diamonds come from Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the World Press ‘…conflict diamonds are valued at between 4% and 15% of the world total and generate annual trade revenues of $7.5 billion’.
It is not just diamonds that create problems; mining gold has a deadly impact on the environment. Gold mining has changed since the early prospecting days when the precious substance was mined from a stream by hand. Mining has become much more industrialized as the gold is increasingly found in smaller concentrates, about 10 grams of gold for each ton of earth or rock mined.
Today’s industrial gold mining is done by open pit method, blasting into rock to find the gold while simultaneously destroying the landscape and ecological systems. No More Dirty Gold, an education and advocacy group, reports that a single gold ring leaves behind more than 20 tons of mine waste. Gold production also destroys land through open pit mining and utilizing deadly cyanide to separate gold from ore. Metals mining is considered to be the number one toxic polluter in the USA, responsible for 89% of arsenic releases, 85% of mercury releases, and 84% of lead releases in 2004 according to No More Dirty Gold. Purchasing environmentally certified gold and conflict-free diamonds is the only way to ensure you are not destroying the environment when you buy jewelery.
Valentine’s Day Cards
Although a Valentine’s card might not have the same impact on the environmental as chocolate and roses, each time you purchase a card made from non-recyclable paper you are contributing to the erosion of forests. More than 370 million tons of paper products are used each year in the world. The paper trade is considered to be a non-sustainable industry as there are not enough wood resources to continue to supply global paper demand indefinitely—more than 50% of the world’s forests have been destroyed or converted to non-forest use.
Cards made from sustainable materials like hemp, animal dung, cotton rags, hosiery cuttings, bananas, flowers and straw, are just a few of the materials papermakers around the world recycle into tree-free cards and paper. Finding alternative sources for paper production is becoming increasingly urgent as current global paper consumption cannot be sustained indefinitely —93% of paper still comes directly from trees.
Fairtrade Labeling Organizations (FLO) International: http://www.fairtrade.net/
La Siembra Co-operative: http://www.lasiembra.com/
International Labor Rights Fund: http://www.LaborRights.org/
Rainforest Alliance: http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/
Online Organic Florist: http://www.OrganicBouquet.com/
Sierra Eco Flowers: http://www.SierraEco.com/
Flower Label Program: http://www.fairflowers.de/
US Labor in the Americas Project: http://www.usleap.org/
War on Want: http://www.waronwant.org/
Diamonds & Gold
Amnesty International: http://www.amnestyusa.org/
Basel Action Network: http://www.ban.org/
Blood Diamond Action: http://www.blooddiamondaction.org/
Brilliant Earth Conflict Free Diamonds: http://www.brilliantearth.com/
Conflict Free Diamond Council: http://www.conflictfreediamonds.org/
Green Karat: http://www.greenkarat.com
Global Witness: http://www.globalwitness.org/
Mercury Policy Project: http://www.mercurypolicy.org/
No Dirty Gold: http://www.nodirtygold.org/
Canadian Cocoa Camino Company offers fair-trade certified organic chocolate and pays farmers a fair price for their cocoa beans: http://www.lasiembra.coop/en
Find out how the world’s largest chocolate companies are treating their farmers in the International Labor Rights Fund global overview of the chocolate trade. The ugly reality of chocolate is the thousands of Africa’s children are forced to labor in the production of cocoa, chocolate’s primary ingredient. Low cocoa prices and lower labor costs drive farmers to employ children as a means to survive: http://www.LaborRights.org/
To find out more about the flower trade read Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers by Amy Steward: http://www.amystewart.com
The Conflict-Free Diamond Council is dedicated to stopping the trade of conflict diamonds by creating consumer demand for Certified Conflict-Free Diamonds: http://www.conflictfreediamonds.org/
A single gold ring leaves behind more than 20 tons of mine waste. Gold production also destroys the land through open pit mining and deadly cyanide used to separate gold from ore. Metals mining is considered to be the number one toxic polluter in the USA, responsible for 89% of arsenic releases, 85% of mercury releases, and 84% of lead releases in 2004: No Dirty Gold Campaign: http://www.nodirtygold.org/
When you purchase non-organic flowers, your loved one may be inhaling toxic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, nematocides and plant growth regulators. Flowers are not regulated for pesticide levels yet they must be free of insects when crossing North American borders. The result is mass quantities of unregulated pesticides on your flowers: http://www.organicconsumers.org/