If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

READ: The Flower Industry in Colombia — The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Globalization

The article below uses “Three Close Reads”. If you want to learn more about this strategy, click here.

First read: preview and skimming for gist

Before you read the article, you should skim it first. The skim should be very quick and give you the gist (general idea) of what the article is about. You should be looking at the title, author, headings, pictures, and opening sentences of paragraphs for the gist.

Second read: key ideas and understanding content

Now that you’ve skimmed the article, you should preview the questions you will be answering. These questions will help you get a better understanding of the concepts and arguments that are presented in the article. Keep in mind that when you read the article, it is a good idea to write down any vocab you see in the article that is unfamiliar to you.
By the end of the second close read, you should be able to answer the following questions:
  1. How did the historical background of the Colombian economy before and after World War II shape the later developments Crawford outlines in the flower trade?
  2. How does the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the US affect the Colombian economy?
  3. How has the recent boom in the Colombia floral trade and its exports to the US affected the US floral industry?
  4. What does Crawford mean by “the ugly” side of the flower industry in Colombia?

Third read: evaluating and corroborating

Finally, here are some questions that will help you focus on why this article matters and how it connects to other content you’ve studied.
At the end of the third read, you should be able to respond to these questions:
  1. Crawford asks what the workings of the floral industry in Colombia reveal about global production and distribution since the end of the World War II. After reading this piece, what do you think? What aspects are unique to the trade between Colombia and the US and why? What aspects of this trade reveal more about global trends since World War II? Can you also use the networks frame narrative to respond to these prompts?
  2. After reading this essay, how would you weigh “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of this particular aspect of global trade? How do you evaluate these different factors in policy terms and social impact and determine whether this type of network is beneficial and for whom?
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to read! Remember to return to these questions once you’ve finished reading.

The Flower Industry in Colombia: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Globalization

Photo of a truck full of white, orange, pink, and red colored roses.
By Sharika D. Crawford
Why Colombia adorns your dinner table with roses and the consequences of this flourishing industry for American growers and Colombian workers.
The words, “Colombian imports” usually brings to mind coffee and cocaine. It’s true that these two products have shaped the economic and social history of Colombia for much of the twentieth century. But they are not the only Colombian exports. One of the most important exports from Colombia is flowers, in particular, long stem roses. This has had far-reaching effects in countries like the United States since the 1970s. So how did this happen? Have these effects been positive, negative, or both? What can looking at the floral industry in Colombia tell us about global networks since the end of the Second World War?
Map of Colombia and it’s major cities. Bogota, the capital, is identified by a star, while other major cities are marked with dots.
Map of Colombia showing the major cities, mountains, and rivers. By Grundkarte Shadowxfox, CC BY-SA 3.0.


In 1810, Colombians gained their independence from Spain. They quickly worked to build a stable government and good economy. The ruling class sought out foreigners to invest in their country. They believed foreign investment would improve roads and wharves. They hoped it would create new businesses. Like other nations in Latin America, foreign investment in Colombia came with positive and negative effects. To attract foreign business, the government gave them special privileges. This often upset locals. But foreign investment did improve the economy in the short-term. Foreign companies built new railroad and telegraph connections between agricultural and mining communities in the middle of the country and coastal ports. Ships brought goods overseas, stopping in Caribbean ports along the way. Political violence would often disrupt business, but Colombians continued to export goods to international buyers. Unfortunately, this business came crashing down in the 1930s due to the worldwide Great Depression.
After the Second World War, Colombian leaders decided not to rely on foreign investors. Instead, they focused on domestic growth. They promoted industrialization. Colombians began making goods that they once bought and imported from other countries. In the short run, some Colombians lived better. Many rural people found jobs in cities, which led to increased urbanization. However, the economic growth didn’t last. This was partly because Colombia never fully industrialized. Leaders depended on borrowed money from foreign banks to buy equipment and technology to start new industries. By the 1980s, Colombian businesses were unable to pay foreign creditors. A decade later, the government had to borrow money from international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to pay off high interest loans. In exchange, leaders had to agree to cut government spending on state-owned industries, eliminate government jobs, and recruit more foreign investment. Keeping these developments in mind, let’s look at the rise of the floral industry in Colombia.
Photo of a pink rose in full bloom.
Pink rose in bloom. By TriviaKing at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The good

On Valentine’s Day in 2018, Americans purchased more cut flowers than in previous years. Roses remain the favorite. The vast majority of roses bought at grocery stores likely came from the Colombian highlands. Although Colombians do not celebrate the holiday, a 2018 Washington Post article reports that Valentine Day sales made up 20 percent of the Colombian floral industry’s annual revenue. These profits are evidence of the strength of the Colombian floral industry, which only burst on the market in the 1990s.
In 1991, the United States Congress approved the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA). The goal was to dissuade Andean growers from harvesting coca, the plant that makes cocaine. ATPA lowered tariffs, or taxes on imports, from four Andean countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. During the height of the War on Drugs campaign, American politicians looked to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. While ATPA was unsuccessful in reducing cocaine production, it did have a stunning outcome. Some Colombian landowners began to grow and export cheap flowers to U.S markets. They took advantage of their mild climate to grow flowers year-round. They also benefited from the lower tariffs. Many imported farm equipment to increase crop yields (harvests). Even more growers started farms near to the international airport to save on transportation costs. With flying technology, Colombian flowers can easily arrive to U.S stores within hours. During the peak season around Valentine’s Day, there are 30-35 fully loaded flights a day carrying flowers to Miami. The results are clearly positive for Colombian industry. Colombia’s flower industry earns a billion dollars in profits per year and employs 100,000 low skilled workers. Nearly half that number work in related jobs such as distribution and marketing. These results suggest how globalization has “flattened” socioeconomic inequalities across countries.

The bad

Despite the stunning economic strength of the Colombian floral industry, it is not an entirely rosy picture. While Colombians export 60 billion stems each year to countries as close as the United States and as a distant as Japan, the number of flower growers in the U.S. steeply declined in the past thirty years. Free trade agreements between nations improved farm technology. Combined with faster air transport and availability of low wage laborers, Colombian floral producers could dominate the U.S market in ways that were unimaginable fifty years ago. In 1971, the U.S imported 100 million blooms of flowers. Three decades later, it imported 200 billion flowers, which has led U.S flower producers to withdraw largely from the floral market. Thus, the growth of the floral industry in Colombia has meant the decline in American flower producers.
Poster with red and white roses on it advertising the sale of roses by the Conrad & Jones Company.
United States advertisement for roses. From the Biodiversity Heritage Library, CC BY 2.0.

The ugly

In addition to the decline in American flower growers, intense debates continue over the quality of Colombian flower industry’s work environment. Sixty percent of the nearly 100,000 Colombian flower workers are women. Many are single mothers. Human rights organizations and industry observers have collected complaints of sexual harassment by male supervisors, long working hours without breaks, and over exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. Some evidence suggests that children as young as nine years old have had to work all day on Saturdays in greenhouses alongside their mothers. Despite a series of reforms to address child labor and working hours, labor activists continue to criticize the poor work conditions. To compete with global flower growers, Colombian flower farmers must control costs even at the expense of its employees.
Photo of a young woman holding a small bouquet of white, red, and pink roses. The woman is a Colombian flower worker.
Colombian flower worker. Public domain.


After midcentury reforms failed to bring long-term prosperity or resolve socioeconomic inequality, Colombian leaders returned to foreign capital and foreign investors as key to economic growth. Some sectors of the economy, including the flower industry, have benefited from a reintegration into the global economy. They have managed to feed the demand for cheap, long-stem roses and other flowers in countries around the world. With airplanes to ship them to markets quickly, farm equipment and a mild climate to grow flowers during all seasons, and a supportive government, Colombia flower growers dominate the U.S market. But while owners of flower farms make a good profit, their employees make low wages and work in difficult conditions.
Author bio
Sharika Crawford is Associate Professor of Latin American history at the United States Naval Academy. Her scholarship has focused on modern Colombia, the circum-Caribbean, and the West African country of Ghana. Prof. Crawford has published her research in several academic journals and newsletters.

Want to join the conversation?

No posts yet.