Thursday, February 13, 2020

What's wrong with roses? Springfield author explores the dark side of valentines

Roses are an enduring Valentine's gift.

Aphrodite was the goddess of love in Greek mythology. According to some stories, the falling of her blood led to the first red rose.

The modern story of rose production also comes with a dark side. In Kenya, conditions for workers, the majority of them women, have long been a concern of human-rights activists. Sexual harassment, underpayment and overwork are reported as common problems.

Megan Styles, a Springfield native and professor at University of Illinois Springfield, explores the ethics, ecology and economy of rose production in her book recently released by University of Washington Press, Roses from Kenya.

In addition to an exploration of controversial labor practices, the book is also about a lake and the confluence of wildlife, commerce, power and politics surrounding it.

Styles became interested in the issue while a graduate student at the University of Washington where she was working toward her doctorate and came upon the topic, which combined her interests in Eastern Africa, ecology and ethnography.

"I literally Googled Kenya, environment and agriculture. And I came up with all of these really sensational articles in the BBC News and mainly the U.K. newspapers about Kenyan flower farming and the horrible labor conditions." She realized there was potential for a lesser-explored area of research on the environmental impacts of the industry.

In the U.S. market, many flowers sold come from South America. Styles suggests consumers ask questions about their origins if they harbor concerns about the ethical implications of the flowers they buy. As her book points out, consumer activism has been a key to bettering conditions and shining a spotlight on the practices in Kenya.

This story appeared in the Illinois Times on Feb. 13, 2020.

Read the entire article online.