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NORAD paints a rosy picture of Norwegian-Ugandan rose farm: But working conditions are objectionable

The Norwegian-Ugandan rose farm Jambo Roses has received NOK millions in grant from NORAD, which paints a rosy picture of the company's profitability and working conditions. NorWatch studies, however, show that the workers are working under highly objectionable conditions, and that the company is using pesticides that are banned in Norway, despite assurances to the contrary by the Norwegian owners.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
The Norwegian-Ugandan rose farm Jambo Roses has received NOK millions in grant from NORAD, which paints a rosy picture of the company's profitability and working conditions. NorWatch studies, however, show that the workers are working under highly objectionable conditions, and that the company is using pesticides that are banned in Norway, despite assurances to the contrary by the Norwegian owners.

By Harald Eraker

"A model firm" and "This is without doubt the best I&N project in Uganda and perhaps in our entire portfolio." This is how NORAD's Department for Industrial Cooperation describes the Jambo Roses rose farm in a grant memo in connection with the company's application for an aid loan last year.

Altogether, NORAD has given NOK 3,986,000 (470,000 USD) in support to Jambo Roses since the rose farm was established in 1995 near Entebbe, the city which hosts Uganda's international airport. NORAD is enthusiastic about Jambo Roses both because of its profitability, its quality, and the welfare of the company's workers. The rose farm grows 16 different varieties of short-stemmed roses in 11 greenhouses. The roses are transported to Norway via Holland.

Rosy development?
Earlier this year, NorWatch went to Uganda to find out whether NORAD's rosy picture fits with the workers' experience of their own situation. The results of the study are now published in the report "Bed of Roses? - working conditions at a joint Norwegian Ugandan rose farm".

Besides well-known issues such as employment conditions, wages, working hours and union rights, the report seeks to shed light on the greatest health and environment challenge to the horticulturists: pesticide use. In this regard, "Rosy Development" shows that the company has very questionable practices. As shown by the report's conclusions below, the workers' experience of the working conditions at Jambo Roses is not all roses:

• Jambo Roses violates the Ugandan labour legislation which gives an employee the right to be permanently employed after six month of probation time. According to the management, the workers are given permanent jobs after two years of employment. However, workers explain that some people have even worked for more that three years without getting a permanent job. Workers also complain about not having their contracts for employment in writing and that a months salary is deducted as a deposit by the management at the beginning of their employment.

• Normal working hours at Jambo Roses are from 7.00 AM to 5.00 PM, including a two hours lunch break when workers are not allowed to leave company premise. At periods of  great demand, workers are ordered to work overtime, within the hours of lunch break as well as after regular working hours. The workers complain about having to work 11-12 hours a day, many days in a row, in such periods. In worst cases work is interrupted only by half an hour lunch break and a 5-10 minutes tea break.

• The workers complain that the wages are very low at Jambo Roses, a complaint Commissioner of Labour in Uganda, Dr. Ogaram David, agrees with. In Uganda, an average monthly salary for an industrial worker is between 60,000 and 80,000 Ugandan Shilling (UGS), while an unskilled worker in any sector has a minimum wage (not fixed by law) of 250 UGS per hour. However, the monthly salary at the start of employment on the rosefarm is only 42,000 UGS (22.8 US dollar), which gives 185 UGS (0.1 US dollar) per hour. In addition, workers complain about not getting the promised increase of wages. Many of the interviewees still received 42,000 UGS despite working for many years on the rosefarm. Jambo Roses also has a doubtful policy of giving the workers individual wages after two years of seniority. The level of salary is then based on interviews and evaluation of a worker's skill, conducted by the production manager.

• The workers complain about the holiday in July having been reduced from 21 days in 1998 to 14 days in 1999, while the management and staff have 30 days of holiday. In addition, several workers deny that they get two days off at Christmas and New Year. In reality, sick leave means loss of income, because the expenses of obtaining the required medical certificate from the doctor far exceeds the loss of salaries. Jambo Roses has several social benefit arrangements, like a retirement fund and a co-operative. In addition, the company's activity has led to road construction which benefits the citizens in this part of Uganda. Jambo Roses has also given financial support to a kindergarten/school, and once a year the company invite their customers to do the same. The problem with the retirement fund, however, is that only the workers with a permanent job can benefit from it, leaving out the majority of the employees on the rosefarm.

• Jambo Roses is not willing to provide a complete list of pesticides which are used on the rosefarm. Nevertheless, NorWatch received a list of nine pesticides from one of the employees, which according to the International Flower Coordination (IFC) most probably are only a few of the pesticides used by Jambo Roses. The main problem for the workers is that they are ordered to return into the greenhouses too soon after spraying has terminated, and that they sometimes even have to work as spraying is done. IFC's  recommended re-entry intervals after spraying is at least six hours. Several of the interviewees complained about health plagues which they see as a result of exposure to the pesticides, but lack of medical examination makes it impossible to verify whether this is the case. According to the Norwegian Agricultural Inspection Service in Norway, four out of the nine pesticides (i.e. the active ingredient in them) used by Jambo Roses are not approved for ornamental plants in greenhouses in Norway.

• There are no trade unions at Jambo Roses, even though the management claims that they are not against it. The reason why the workers have not organised themselves is, according to themselves, fear of becoming unpopular with the management and thus loose their jobs and income. Instead of trade unions, the management has introduced a system of Workers Representatives, a forum where the employees can raise their issues of concern, according to the management. However, workers NorWatch interviewed complained about it not being possible to discuss wages and other fundamental trade union issues in this forum. The workers expressed a strong need for changes regarding a number of important issues on the rosefarm, but the lack of free unions seems to have created an atmosphere of apathy in this regard.

Lack of will
Both Jambo Roses and NORAD received the report before publication, but neither has wished to comment on it. Øistein Larsen, chairman of the board of Jambo Roses, has shown little will to release information about the company, e.g. on ownership, the Norwegian dealer of the roses, and what pesticides are used.

In reply to the latter question, Larsen writes only that the board has "clearly stressed that the pesticides used should also be approved for use in Norway" to farm manager Daniel Kiriongo. The incomplete list of pesticides obtained by NorWatch shows that this is not the case: Out of nine pesticides, four have not been approved for use in greenhouses for ornamental plants in Norway.

The chairman of the board says ownership of Jambo Roses is divided 60-40 between Ugandan and Norwegian interests respectively, but will not enter into further detail. However, NorWatch is aware that Aker Gård Gartneri at Sem in Vestfold, Norway, is one of the Norwegian shareholders, and that chairman Larsen is also probably a shareholder himself.

Leaves a bad taste
NorWatch has also ascertained that Ragnar J. Svinningen A/S is the main dealer in roses from Jambo Roses in the Norwegian market. This wholesale business sells bunches of roses to various florists in Norway, with the Plantasjen chain as the largest buyer. Plantasjen has shops i. a. in Skedsmo, Sandvika, Lier and Drammen.

According to a story in the NORAD paper Bistandsaktuelt in March last year, the Norwegians needing to deaden a guilty conscience may lead to positive developments in the villages by Lake Victoria, when buying roses from Jambo Roses. NorWatch's report concludes that many improvements must take place for the workers on the rose farm before Norwegian consumers can do so without a bad aftertaste.

Jambo Roses Ltd in Uganda
Jambo Roses is owned 60% by Ugandan interests and 40% by Norwegian ones, among them Aker Gård Gartneri. According to NORAD, the rose farm produces 15 million short-stemmed roses per year, and some seven million of these are sold in Norway. The wholesaler Ragnar J. Svinningen is the main dealer in roses from Jambo Roses, which are sold i. a. in the shops of the Plantasjen chain. Since 1995, NORAD has supported the business with a total of NOK 3,986,000, in the form of a loan of more than NOK 3 million plus grants for preliminary studies, training, and basic investment.

Norwatch Newsletter 9/00