Rose Farm Rescues Reveal Darker Side to Valentine's Day

Boys rescued from a rose farm.
Boys rescued from a rose farm.

WASHINGTON, DC – This Valentine's Day, as millions purchase roses to give to loved ones, International Justice Mission is reminding buyers that there is a darker side to some of our most basic purchases, including roses.

On July 11, 2014, IJM and local authorities outside Bangalore, India rescued four boys from slavery on a rose farm. The children, each between ages 9 and 15, recounted being held as slaves and forced to water 4,000 thousand of roses each day for nearly five years. Their daily routine started at 5am each morning. Instead of going to school, the children would spend the next twelve hours mixing sand, watering flowers and refreshing the soil with manure. The boys were also responsible for carefully picking the roses from thorny bushes, a task that required skill and concentration. If a mistake was made and any flowers broken, the boys recalled being beaten by the farm owner. One boy said he tried to run away. Another shared how he was told to rub manure into his leg wound rather than visit the hospital.

“Whenever I see roses now, I can’t help but think of the boys that we’ve rescued,” said IJM’s Reena Matthai while visiting a rose market in Bangalore. “I’m wondering whether they were picked by young boys, but since we know the stark reality behind some of these roses, we’re always suspicious and always pained. The joy of seeing the roses is tainted a bit now.”

Yet, this horrific scene of slavery and abuse is far from unusual. Worldwide, nearly 36 million people are estimated to be subjected to forced labor (Global Slavery Index). The International Labor Organization (ILO) considers compulsory or forced labor any “work or service exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.”

While slavery is widespread, topping $150 billion in annual profits (International Labour Organization), the flower industry is also flourishing. On Valentine’s Day alone, flowers accounted for $1.9 billion in sales in 2014 with more than 257 million roses grown for the holiday (The Society of American Florists).

Meantime, many buying bouquets of roses from grocery stores or flourists remain unaware that children account for much of the work in many industries not associated by most for being produced by children. According to the ILO, 168 million children are victims of forced labor each year. There are some 128 goods among the products that most commonly use child labor, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Agriculture remains the sector where the majority of child laborers can be found (98 million, or 59%) (ILO).  In 2012, the Atlantic reported there is a 1 in 12 chance your Valentine's Day flowers were cut by child laborers. 

IJM's President and CEO Gary Haugen recently published The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. A major reason the poor remain trapped in poverty is the failures of criminal justice systems in developing nations to protect them from violence, Haugen argued.

"The epidemic of violence and poor people has mostly gone unnoticed," Haugen says. "The brokenness of criminal justice systems unleash all this violence and children are just not safe and parents are desperate."

Today, each of the four boys rescued from the Bangalore rose farm remain free, no longer another statistic of forced labor. IJM staff helped reunite the boys with their parents and worked with government officials to secure release certificates, emancipating them from slavery and protecting them from further abuse from the farm owner.

IJM is committed to working with the boys as they plan to return to school and join IJM’s two-year program for rescued slaves where a team of social workers will create individualized care plans to help them adjust to life as a student rather than a slave.

Go behind-the-scenes of a rose market in India; And meet two more survivors of slavery rescued from rose farms by Indian authorities.

South Asia, Forced Labor Slavery, Rescue