World Volunteer Web Home  
Volunteerism worldwide: News, views & resources
  Home   About us   Contact us   Contribute   Search   Sitemap 
 
Be my ethical Valentine
13 February 2008
by Joanne Tomkinson

A Colombian worker selects roses ahead of St. Valentine's Day in a Farm in Chia, January 30, 2008. (REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez)A Colombian worker selects roses ahead of St. Valentine's Day in a Farm in Chia, January 30, 2008. (REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez)
Celebrating Valentine's with a clear conscience

Who'd have thought that a simple token of affection this Valentine's Day could have humanitarian implications? But saying "I love you" with gifts like roses, chocolates or diamonds can sometimes have damaging effects on the people involved in producing them.

Take cocoa production, for example. In Ivory Coast, which grows 40 percent of the world's cocoa, child labour and hazardous working conditions are big problems.

Around 109,000 children work in dangerous conditions on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, and between 5,000 and 10,000 children are thought to have been trafficked into the country to work in the sector, according to a 2006 U.S State Department Human Rights Report.

Then there are roses, which are often produced using harmful chemicals.

In Latin America, the use of pesticides such as DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) in flower fields is known to cause health problems for workers.

And diamonds are even more controversial, particularly "blood diamonds", which are mined under brutal conditions and sold to support a war effort.

But there are some positive sides to the Valentine's gift market. Some presents, like flowers from Ethiopia, are great for farmers who see a 50 percent boost in export demand in February.

In Kenya where the recent unrest is already harming the economy, farmers have been working especially hard to get flowers to market in time for Valentine's Day.

Colombian flower plantations meanwhile employ almost 200,000 people, mostly women who might otherwise be caught up in the violence and poverty caused by the country's four-decade old guerrilla war.

And in Sierra Leone, where the diamond trade fuelled a brutal civil war, the charity arm of luxury jeweller's Tiffanies is turning disused diamond fields back into farming land. Around 150 jobs will be created by the project - welcome in a country where youth unemployment is at 75 percent.

If you want some advice about how to be a romantic humanitarian this Valentine's Day, the UK Department for International Development, has ideas for choosing the right ethical gift for your partner.