Business & Economy

Diverse Colombian hands assemble flower bouquets for export to US

By Jeimmy Paola Sierra

La Ceja, Colombia, May 11 (EFE).- More than 3 million bouquets of flowers that will be sold in the United States for Mother’s Day were cut and packaged at a Colombian plant whose diverse workforce includes people with some degree of disability, as well as migrants and members of minority groups.

Flores Isabelita, a Colombian company located in La Ceja (a municipality in the northwestern department of Antioquia) that produces and exports bouquets of flowers to the US market, launched an inclusion program in 2017 that was aimed at shattering social stigmas and combating workplace discrimination.

“We’re committed to diversity until inclusion ceases to be inclusion because we’re all diverse,” the company’s manager, Juan Carlos Osorno, said.

An assembly facility that makes bouquets from flowers received from farms in Antioquia and the Bogota savanna, Flores Isabelita boasts a colorful array of flowers in more than 300 varieties.

It also embraces a philosophy that is palpable in every corner and on workers’ uniforms, which bear phrases such as “differences enrich us and respect unites us.”

Four years ago, 27 workers with different levels of hearing disability joined the company as part of a pilot project.

The success of that initiative served as proof that “everyone deserves an opportunity to grow, at both the occupational and personal levels,” Flores Isabelita’s human resources director, Karen Sarmiento, told Efe.

She said people with cognitive disabilities, migrants, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, Afro-Colombians, female heads of household and victims of the armed conflict were later gradually brought on board.

As a result, adjustments needed to be made to each of the company’s processes, the plant’s infrastructure and communication and leadership models, while support also was sought from physiotherapists, educators and special education specialists.

Thirty-seven percent of the employees at that bouquet-making facility, which has 1,100 workers at two sites during the peak Mother’s Day season, are part of the inclusion lines, which have exceeded all expectations with their results and level of commitment despite “quite a lot of concern” initially about issues of productivity and adaptation, Sarmiento said.

“We don’t send just any bouquet to the United States. It has value-added, it has inclusion, it has diversity, it has love, and that makes our bouquets different,” she added.

Karina Rios has prepared bouquets with chrysanthemums, Peruvian lilies, carnations, roses and hydrangeas, among other flowers, for the past three years.

She delicately handles them while working in the packaging area, where she and her colleagues put the finishing touches on some of the more than 3 million bouquets exported via 15 planes to the United States for Mother’s Day.

“I work with hearing and deaf people. I really like the experience I’ve acquired here, and I love the flowers,” the 33-year-old woman said using sign knowledge.

Emanuel Perez, a 19-year-old man with a cognitive disability who spent a year in a training course preparing for his first “serious job” and now prepares the bouquet wraps and sticks on the bar codes.

“They’ve had a lot of patience with me because for a person like me we have a lot of trouble locating certain things and following certain instructions,” Perez told Efe.

The social responsibility program at Flores Isabelita, owned by the Falcon Farms group, has won it recognition at the national level.

But Osorno says the company’s biggest source of pride comes not from hiring a diverse workforce but from “impacting communities, impacting families and impacting society.” EFE


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