Valentine’s Day reminds us each year that romance isn’t dead. We hope.


Red rose.

By Vlad Nardin /

Ah, but that red rose you receive will be dead in days. Its petals will wilt and fall, its novelty will wear off. Its innocence died long before. Your sweetheart did not pick the rose from a neighbor’s lawn; more likely it was picked in Colombia or Ecuador by an underpaid and possibly underage laborer, then imported and marked up for the masses.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 14, 2012, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency processed approximately 842 million cut flower stems grown abroad. Sixty-seven percent came from Colombia and 23 percent came from Ecuador. Its country of origin isn’t stamped on each petal, but a Valentine’s flower is like a garden-variety cell phone or designer shoe: Rarely made in the USA.

The reason, of course, is cheap labor. In 2003, the International Labor Rights Forum launched the “Fairness in Flowers campaign” in response to the substandard working conditions in South America. There, ILRF reports a litany of labor issues. The right to organize is routinely denied. Sexual harassment and forced pregnancy tests are part of the “office culture.” Toxic pesticides and fungicides cause health problems – particularly inEcuador, where an estimated 20 percent of the flower workers are children.

Problems like Ecuadorian pesticides, out of sight as they are, won’t occur to most of us when buying flowers. Rampant outsourcing can pose more practical problems, however: hidden fees, customer service issues, and delivery delays. These concerns were cited by people describing their experiences with these sites on the consumer review website, owned by market research firm Opinion
Corp. The big flower distributors like FTD, 1-800 Flowers, and FromYouFlowers were among the biggest offenders.

“So I ordered a small gift that was going to be $29.99 plus the $9.99 for shipping,” writes one consumer, “and when I go to check out my bill is now almost $50!!! Turns out their ‘up-charges’ bring shipping up to $18. Seriously? Then after tax and everything my little gift is almost double in cost.” Many consumers found that problems with flower delivery extend beyond the busy period of Valentine’s Day. “I ordered flowers for my mother’s birthday on May 15th to be delivered the next day,” writes one. “She never received them. Called the company when I found out that evening and they had no record of the florist ever confirming the order. They said they would call me first thing in the morning. I called them late this morning after not hearing from them and they said the florist never answered their phone … I was told they would find another florist and upgradethe order for no extra charge. As of this evening, they still had not arrived.”

Another recurring thorn in customers’ sides was a lack of quality control. Wilted or dead flowers, sloppy arrangements, and flowers that look nothing like their advertised picture were among the variety of complaints. The simple remedy is to buy flowers in person from a localvendor, but be careful: Fair trade flowers are scarce both online and in stores. Look for the Rainforest Alliance’s “green frog” stamp of certification, an indication that theflowers were grown in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable way on a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm. Boutique grocer Whole Foods
carries RA-certified flowers, as do mainstream megastores like Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart.

Times have changed, but at least one rule for choosing a Valentine’s bouquet hasn’t changed a bit since elementary school: Do your homework first.