Leydi’s world : a feminist commodity chain analysis of the cut-flower industry and its women workers in Cayambe, Ecuador
This thesis explores the gendered, raced, classed and aged experiences of women working in the floriculture industry in Cayambe, Ecuador, questioning how the work affects and shapes female workers’ daily lives and how they navigate and negotiate such work. The thesis relies on the method of multiple working hypotheses to hypothesize that flower work is either positive and empowering, negative and exploitative, or both positive and negative, representing both opportunity and exploitation. The project focuses on the case study of the community of Vicundo, outside Cayambe, where the majority of women work or have worked on nearby flower plantations. It takes a feminist geographic approach with a feminist commodity chain analysis (Ramamurthy, 2004) to provide more embodied narratives of these women’s experiences to give voice to women who, in many past studies, are simply statistics. The project’s theoretical framework weaves together literature on gender, development and agriculture, feminist political economy of labor and feminist political ecology to add to the floriculture literature. The thesis finds that women’s experiences in the cut-flower industry are varied and nuanced, representing both positive, empowering aspects as well as negative, exploitative aspects. These experiences are raced, gendered, classed, and aged, very much shaped by hierarchies of power that echo the structures of colonial haciendas. In addition, one should not make the blanket statement that women working in flowers are ‘empowered’ through their work in the industry. Instead, they must actively navigate and negotiate it, making sacrifices, in order to create the best situation for themselves and their families. Flower workers are both producers and consumers, and the cut-flower industry is strongly affecting their lives and consumption in the region, with few alternatives. Finally, while advertising does acknowledge the labor of ‘artisan’ flower workers, more of an effort should be made to recognize on an international level who they are, what they do to produce flowers, and what effects the work has on their lives and the region. Throughout, women’s narratives enrich understanding of the complexity of flower work. In conclusion, although Ecuador is one of the top exporters of cut-flowers to the United States, most consumers in the Global North do not know where these flowers come from and the labor and resources that go into it. This project attempts to fill in that story, to visibilize the commodity chain and the majority female actors within it to Global North consumers. With a better understanding of the commodity chain, particularly the experiences of women working in the industry in Ecuador, consumers can make more informed decisions about what they consume and to pressure for positive reform to improve labor conditions for the industry’s workers.