Calvert  News & Commentary

(Really) Celebrate Women this Valentine’s Day

What’s really in that gorgeous box of chocolates?


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By Ellen Kennedy, Senior Sustainability Analyst, Calvert Investment Management, Inc.

Ellen Kennedy, Senior Sustainability AnalystEllen Kennedy

It's almost Valentine's Day, and tokens of love are a brisk business. Industry groups project that 2014 chocolate sales for Valentine's Day will exceed $750 million. Florists' busiest day of the year is February 14, and 233 million roses will be harvested for Cupid's holiday alone. It may seem romantic, but if you follow the money, the global trade in chocolate and roses (and other commodities) has many implications for women's lives, particularly in developing countries (see sidebar).

So how did we get to a place where the very symbols of love spring from exploitation and suffering? It's partly because flowers and cacao have become commodities, rather than the simple agricultural products they once were. When an agricultural product becomes a commodity, its production becomes a race for quantity and uniformity above all else. Marry that with Valentine's Day demand, and you begin to see the connections.

Cacao—the core ingredient of all that chocolaty goodness—is largely harvested by 1.5 million farmers in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, which together make up more than half of global production. Women in those and other cacao- producing nations account for a disproportionate number of low-paying jobs, according to an Oxfam investigation. Women also receive lower wages than men, and suffer harassment, denial of property rights, and limited or no access to credit.

Roses, too, get thornier the closer you get to their source. Roses are one of Kenya's major exports, and women there are disproportionately employed as unskilled greenhouse laborers. Large-scale rose growers there often use a toxic cocktail of pesticides, fungicides, and fumigants to grow the perfect, blemish-free roses we prize. The women working in those greenhouses suffer the health effects.

Agricultural commodities also make up a growing share of the raw materials used in many of our consumer products. While not readily apparent, most investors have at least some degree of exposure to agricultural commodities in their portfolios through consumer goods manufacturers and sellers, and, in turn, to the related challenges these pose to women.

But change is on the horizon and, not surprisingly, women are at the heart of it. Women are increasingly becoming their own agents of change. Women's wealth is growing rapidly, and women are slowly but surely joining the investment community. What's more, several recent studies show that women are far more likely than men to place value on social and environmental factors when making investment decisions. And their voices are being heard. A growing number of companies are waking up to the social ills that lurk in their supply chains, and more and more are working aggressively to improve things.

As an investor, you have the power to keep things moving in the right direction. Understanding all the links in a company's global supply chain—and pressuring companies to change through shareholder advocacy—is at the core of sustainable and responsible investing. Calvert constructs its investment portfolios with a specific focus on the challenges that arise within global supply chains, with a significant focus on women's working conditions.

This Valentine's Day, if you want to show women some real love, perhaps the place to start is with your own portfolio.

Calvert Investment Management, Inc., 4550 Montgomery Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814

Ellen Kennedy leads Calvert’s environment program, coordinating the advocacy and research of Calvert’s sustainability analysts working on climate change, water scarcity, energy, toxics, and other environmental issues. She has focused her own research and advocacy on the consumer staples sector for the past decade, particularly on farm-to-fork sustainability within food companies, and biodiversity. Ms. Kennedy holds an M.A. from UC Berkeley and a B.A. from Haverford College.

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