Peter Vrouwe, PortalFlora / Hoven en de Mooij

"Critisism of Sher Ethiopia unfair"

The recent Dutch broadcast, in which both African rose grower Sher Ethiopia and the Fairtrade label got a lot of flak, has turned out to be rather skewed in its coverage. But the harm has been done: "Whether the consumer agrees or not, the next time they buy or get a bouquet of roses, they'll be ready to judge."

This was said by Peter Vrouwe, Relationship Manager at PortalFlora / Hoven en de Mooij, in a reaction. "It's just not an honest story. And when you do broadcast something, at least be fair."

Pointing fingers

So why are the people at Zembla, investigative journalists of some renown, coming up with such a story? "There's a problem in Ethiopia, and that problem is water. There's not enough of it. Then people start pointing fingers, and the floriculture industry becomes a scapegoat. They're presumed guilty of pretty much everything that goes wrong. And I believe jealousy comes into play here as well. Dutch growers went to Africa because nobody in the Netherlands is willing to pay a fair price for a bunch of flowers. They start up a successful company there. And it's always nice to throw stones at someone who's better off than others."

Blow for certifications
There were two points of criticism regarding the broadcast though: Fairtrade didn't do a particularly good job advocating for its brand, and it could be called a sign of weakness that Sher didn't give a reaction on camera. "Regarding Fairtrade: that also reflects on other certifications. Like so many companies, we sometimes struggle with the question: shouldn't we have this or that certificate? It takes a lot to get that done – and it's particularly difficult to get a Fairtrade certificate – but I assume starting such a procedure is not a top priority for many companies. And Fairtrade creates a lot of hullabaloo, but internally they don't quite have their act together. The second point, Sher not responding on camera, is just not the smartest thing to do in my opinion. Gerrit is articulate and mature enough to have his say, and in hindsight the chosen course is understandable. But of course, it would have been better to have a spokesperson react, even if they didn't really have anything to say."

Incidentally, Peter Barnhoorn, who owns the company together with his father Gerrit, told a Dutch news medium that he did speak to Zembla, saying he was surprised that nothing was shown of this in the broadcast.

Reputational damage
Finally, the whole story won't contribute positively to the reputation of the sector as a whole. "We're a wholesaler, so we won't notice it directly, but our clients, the exporters, will. I assume it will have struck a chord with large retailers in particular. They are constantly looking out for themselves, and they wield a lot of power over who is allowed to supply and who isn't. I remember a similar story, years ago, speaking of all sorts of things that were wrong with Kenyan roses. German export was hit pretty hard by that, because suddenly they weren't allowed to supply to various parties anymore."

AfriFlora response to the broadcast

The Zembla episode (Dutch)

Fairtrade response to the broadcast (Dutch)

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