Zembla: Dutch Roses from Ethiopia

current-affairs-politics-series Series
Africa, Economy, Trade
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One of the world’s largest rose producers is located in Ethiopia, the Dutch company Sher. Every day, Sher produces between 3 and 4 million roses for the European market. The roses carry the Fairtrade label, an international certificate for fair and sustainable products. Zembla travels to Africa and investigates how ‘fairly’ the roses are produced.

It turns out the rose labourers earn on average 1.5 euros a day. According to experts, this is not enough to make ends meet. Sher employs over ten thousand people in Ethiopia. Annual reports show that the 42 employees at Sher’s Dutch office in Aalsmeer together earn more than their 10,000 Ethiopian colleagues who work in the greenhouses.

Besides fair trade, Fairtrade also promises sustainability. Geographer Marcel Rutten states that producing the roses requires at least 2000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water every year. In Ethiopia it turns out that Sher’s use of water leads to the nearby river running dry.

An internal report shows that the waste water contains substances that harm the ecology. The same substances are also in the Sher roses we buy at the supermarket. Professor of toxicology Martin van den Berg analyzed the data: “These subtances are harmful and can lead to fertility problems and miscarriages.”

In these times of extreme drought the Ethiopian government needs tax income to feed its population. An anonymous source gives us Sher’s tax data. They show that in five years (2011-2015), the company has paid only 420,000 euros. Sher has an annual turnover of 50 million euros, on average. Sher tells us that “there is absolutely no question of tax avoidance or evasion.”