Hivos’ Women @ Work Campaign has extended its activities to Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. On 2 March, together with other civil society organisations from both Southern and Eastern Africa, Hivos launched the campaign, which aims to improve the labour rights of women working in horticulture value chains.
Working conditions in the sector
The horticulture sector is a key income and export generator for most countries in East and Southern Africa. While the sector has seen tremendous growth in investments, improvements in working conditions for flower farm workers still lag behind. In most cases, workers are employed as casual labourers or on short-term contracts, they earn low wages, there is a lack of safety and security in the workplace and little social protection for the workers’ families. They also face exploitation and are vulnerable to sexual harassment.
Women constitute the majority of the workforce (60-70%), but hardly ever benefit from improvements in trade. Deeply rooted inequalities in the social, political and economic sphere keep them in disadvantaged positions and cause women’s work to be considered of less economic value.
A 2016 baseline study by Hivos revealed that most workers on flower farms are not adequately provided with protective clothing, and women are denied their reproductive rights such as maternity leave, as well as prospects for personal development and social integration.
Over the past decades, consumption patterns in high-income countries have changed. Consumers expect fresh products all year round even if they are not in season. To supply this lucrative demand, European retailers source horticulture products – mainly flowers and vegetables – from around the world. Millions of women in low and middle-income countries drive these global value chains.
There is an urgent need for civil society organisations and trade unions to lobby governments in high-income countries to improve working conditions in supplier countries. In addition, businesses have a key role in ensuring decent working conditions for women and implementing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) norms, which, together with social responsibility, are generally under-emphasised.
Civil society organisations and certification bodies are important actors to push for social sustainability within the companies. However, to effectively advocate for compliance with the labour laws in the various countries, it is also critical that farm workers themselves know and understand the provisions of these laws so they can demand compliance by their employers. Finally, public engagement in informed debate on the right to decent work is crucial for ensuring that employers and governments know the public is also familiar with the law(s).
About the Campaign
The Women @ Work Campaign will be implemented in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi in Southern Africa, and Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda in East Africa. These countries will work with local organisations, businesses, governments, certification bodies, trade unions, media and citizens to improve work place conditions for women on flower farms.