Cut flowers in crates at a market

Promoting ethical flowers for improved working conditions in supply chains: The disconnect between increased certification and poor purchaser knowledge


British Academy and Leverhulme Trust
Small Grants Scheme

Total value of project


Project team

Dr Jill Timms (PI), Dr David Bek


Dr Alex Hughes, Newcastle University; Dr Luc Fransen, University of Amsterdam

Duration of project

01/05/2016 - 30/04/2019

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Leverhulme Trust logo

Project objectives

This project examined how the promotion of ethical flowers can contribute to improved working conditions in supply chains. It investigated a puzzling disconnect between the trend of flower farms investing in social certification, and poor purchaser knowledge of standards. The research was significant as it advances understanding of certification as an expression of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and has embedded practical impacts, as demand for ethical flowers can benefit businesses and promote sustainable improvements. The objective was to develop a model for ensuring the value of certification is benefited from throughout the supply chain, from workers through to consumers.

  • The flower industry has grown significant over the last two decades, and is a £1.8bn business in the UK. However, cut-flower work can be precarious and associated with environmental concerns. Technological developments have promoted intensive farming and facilitated international supply chains involving some of the poorest countries, whilst rising supermarket power has intensified competition and price sensitivity. It is characterised by dramatic changes in demand (such as around Valentines and Mother’s Day), and the workforce is often made up of temporary, unorganised, low paid women. Cost pressures and the nature of the product also bring environmental and health concerns, including the use of toxic chemicals to increase crops and prolong life in transit to distant shops.

    In this context, an ethical or responsible flower has been defined as a certified one, with farms investing in private regulation to demonstrate their employment and/or environmental practices have attained certain standards. However, we find the myriad certification schemes are complex, with not only consumers, but often florists and even wholesalers misunderstanding or being unaware of them. Therefore it is difficult for purchase decisions to be made based on ethical considerations.

    By investigating the uneven promotion of ethical flowers, this project identified opportunities for the value of certification to be benefitted from throughout the supply chain. The study was impactful, as interest in ethical flowers spotlights poor conditions and increased demand for rigour in certification, positively affects businesses and work conditions in newly developing countries, potentially influencing other industries exploring certification. 

    This project contrinuted to the case study that was Highly Commended by the national Green Gown Sustainability Awards, in the category of Research with Impact in 2019, and was also integral to a REF2021 Impact Case Study Co-Lead by Jill Timms and David Bek. More details are available at: or by following @JillLTimms and @DaveDBRS.

  • Bek, D., Bryan, A., & Timms, J. (2017). Say it with Flowers: Working with Industry to Reconsider the Ethics of the Flower Supply Chain. Web publication/site, Coventry University.   

    Timms, J., & Bek, D. (2019). Valentine's Day: Five ways to ensure your flowers are ethical. Web publication/site, The Conversation.   

    Despoudi, S., Lanari, N., & Bek, D. (2018). Can the New Era of Retailer-Led Certification Schemes Shift the Sustainability Dial? Web publication/site, Coventry University. 

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