Case study 3.3
Dealing with production pressures in the horticulture industry in Ethiopia

Like many other industries that rely on a large supply of cheap labour, many jobs in floriculture - such as grading, packing, harvesting, tending beds, watering and so on - require limited skills. Many of the workers employed in the industry are poor and vulnerable to exploitation.

Developing Strategies for Change for Women Workers in African Horticulture was a project implemented in Ethiopia between April 2008 and March 2011 by the National Federation of Farm Plantation Fishery Agro Industry Trade Union (NFFPFATU) in collaboration with Women Working Worldwide funded by Comic Relief in the UK. The project was also implemented in Tanzania and Uganda. As part of the project, research was carried out to document working conditions in the sector. This briefing summarizes some of the findings of the research in Ethiopia.

The export horticulture industry in Ethiopia started in 1995 and has been growing steadily since 2002; it now plays a major role in the Ethiopian economy. Most of the farms are foreign owned. Farms export to EU markets, in particular to the Netherlands through both auction and direct markets. Some products are also exported to non-EU markets such as the Russian Federation, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Roses are the main product.

The overwhelming majority of workers in the horticulture sector in Ethiopia are women, mostly aged between 20 and 25 years. The proportion of non-married or single women is higher than married women. Many women are non-permanent workers and they often do not have written contracts so security of employment is a concern.

Workers are often kept on rolling temporary contracts, have unpredictable and seasonal working hours, poor safety and health protection, low wages, long hours and low levels of union representation. Also companies often fail to protect workers from repetitive strain injuries and toxic pesticides.

Long working hours and production pressures

Workers in five of the eight farms surveyed complain of long working hours. Overtime is habitually compulsory and frequently exceeds the maximum hours during busy periods, such as peak seasons, public holidays or when orders are increased but delivery dates not lengthened. Women report that because overtime during peak seasons is so excessive they are not able to perform their domestic responsibilities or care for their children. Shifts of up to 15 hours a day, sometimes without a break, are common around Valentine's Day and Mother’s Day.

Low wages

According to the researchers, wages are not always sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers. Although most codes of conduct stipulate that wages must be sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers, salaries in the horticulture sector still remain very low.

Sexual harassment

The majority of horticulture workers are women. Sexual harassment and bullying is often a major issue. The study found that six out of eight farms had specific policies on verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment, designed to prevent sexual harassment. 86.7 per cent of workers revealed that sexual harassment had not occurred in their workplace but it occasionally took place outside of work. 13.3 per cent of workers mentioned that sexual harassment occurred in their work place in the form of unwanted touching, unwelcomed comments and banter.


In 2007 the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association (EHPEA) took responsibility for the development and management of the Ethiopian code of practice for the export horticulture sector. The code includes clauses on freedom of association and collective bargaining, equality of treatment, living wages, working hours, safety and health, pesticides and chemicals, security of employment, the prohibition of child labour and forced labour. During the research, it was found that several farms had adopted or were in the process of adopting the EHPEA code of practice, and five out of eight farms were covered by the International Code of Conduct (ICC) for cut flowers. The research highlighted the need for better implementation of the codes of conduct and that trade unions should continue to play a critical role in ensuring workers are aware of these codes of conduct and in auditing compliance. The research recommended that all stakeholders work together to ensure workers’ rights are fully respected.

Although the farms are unionized and covered by collective bargaining agreements, union activity was still reported to be discouraged by employers; for example, employers were reported to favour non-union workers for promotions over union members and there were cases of dismissal or demotion of union members.  Source: Women Working Worldwide (2011)