Features | Valentine's Day – What's the harm?

Valentine’s Day is great for romantic gestures but what are the consequences of this surge in consumer activity around the world?

For most, Valentine’s is like any other day, it’s not a national holiday so there’s no day off and you have to put up with mushy couples all over each other at every turn. You’ll notice that in almost every shop at this time of year there are Easter eggs and Valentine’s themed products. Few of the chocolates sold are Fairtrade, cringe-worthy cards are printed on freshly cut-down trees, there is an abundance of imported Kenyan roses with thorn-less stems and all kinds of other mass produced goods, bound to show that one person how special they are to you. Companies have capitalised Valentine’s on as a commercial event in the year. In the midst of this commercial flurry, no wonder people have lost sight of the true origins of celebrating Valentine’s Day.

A prime example of this, the Kenyan Flower Council records that almost a quarter of its annual agricultural GDP comes from its production of roses and other flowers every year, with one third of its flower imports going to UK supermarkets for sale: making flowers Kenya’s biggest export income. Despite this, Kenyan flower producers are protesting over their unfair pay, meanwhile their hard work is helping to encourage their country’s economic growth. This year alone Britain is importing almost 70 per cent of Kenya’s roses, particularly from the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, where the climate is perfect to produce vast amounts of beautiful flowers.

Another issue with the mass export of flowers during this time of year is the environmental effects, not to mention consequences for the biodiversity of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley area and the massive carbon footprint created from the need to transport millions of fresh-cut flowers from Africa to Britain; remaining in an almost pristine, saleable condition.  So if you do plan to buy somebody a bunch of roses try to buy a bunch that has a ‘Fair flowers, Fair plants’ sticker on it, and spare a thought for who grew them as the sticker ensures the welfare of the grower and paid a fair wage. A bunch without it is perhaps benefitting the careless companies who want to gain a profit off those with next to nothing.

And the chocolates that you must gorge yourself on to celebrate Valentine’s, where did they come from? Do you know if the cocoa farmers were paid fairly for their produce? According to Divine Chocolate, an ethical confectionery company, the UK is the world’s seventh largest chocolate consumer; eating around 660,900 tonnes of chocolate a year in Britain collectively! All the more reason for the chocolate we eat, particularly around confectionery-centred consumer-driven Valentine’s, to be ethically sourced: for the benefit of the grower and of the buyer. The largest cocoa producers in the world are in West Africa, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana producing approximately 1.5 million tonnes of cocoa beans a year and again many cocoa farmers are in turmoil over unfair pay and cheap slave labour involving women and children. Green & Blacks is one company that prides itself on being an organic chocolate brand and being ‘slave-free’.

If you’re single and would like to avoid any soppy consumerist couplely shenanigans, you could even celebrate ‘Single’s Awareness Day’ which happens to fall on February 14 as well, a modern-day event created to console those single on Valentines, calling all singles to come together and celebrate their singledom. There are plenty of anti-Valentine’s events, for example the Old Bar in the Union are having a Vampire Movie Night. LS spoke to Emma, studying History, she said: “I don’t mind being single on Valentine’s, I’ll probably go out on the Friday and I might buy my friends some [ethically sourced] chocolate as a kind of joke for the day”.

Rather than Valentine’s being purely about couples, perhaps it can be a day to show anyone close to you that you care about them. Although, you can do this any day during the year, Valentine’s can act as a reminder not to take those close to you for granted and that we should care equally for those on the receiving end of our consumer choices on another continent.


Stephanie Uwalaka

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