The Cotton Story
The cotton in the clothing we buy in regular stores often passes through three or four countries in the production process. In all seventeen stages in the making of a cotton garment, there is the possibility of human trafficking, forced labour and child labour. For example:
Preparation and planting of the cotton seeds – children in India;
Harvesting – Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: at harvest time many in the general population are required to take leave from their jobs, including teachers, doctors and nurses, to pick cotton under harsh and chemically dangerous conditions. Journalists and others who speak out are imprisoned or worse. This week STOP THE TRAFIK received an appeal about one such journalist. The situation in Uzbekistan has improved in response to worldwide campaigning.
Spinning, weaving and dyeing – young women in India particularly Tamil Nadu work in slave-like conditions in spinning mills with minimal pay, long hours and no freedom;
‘Cut, make and trim’ stage – in Bangalore, India (eg in Just Style, January 2018) young women work in conditions of slavery in garment factories; in Bangladesh poverty-line wages and child labour persist despite the publicity following the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013.
STOP THE TRAFFIK and Baptist World Aid, through their Ethical Fashion Report are encouraging clothing companies to publish their lists of suppliers on their websites and to investigate their supply chains right back to the early stages. Until all fashion companies and other manufacturers of cotton products (towels, sheets, uniforms) comply, the Fair Trade logo is our most reliable guarantee that the item has no trafficking or slavery at any stage of its production.
Clothing companies know where their factories are but as Fair Trade New Zealand says, ‘the farmers at the beginning of the process are still invisible.’ Small-scale cotton farmers struggle to receive enough income for food, healthcare, school fees, seeds and tools. Any global fall in cotton prices can have serious implications for farmers who have little bargaining power. Additional challenges are scarce water supplies and competition from cotton farmers in developed countries who are protected by Government subsidies.
In many states of India Fair Trade is working with farmers and producers at each stage of cotton production, from farming, ginning (separating the cotton fibre from the seed), spinning and weaving to manufacturing to help overcome the problems that exist, including assisting farmers, through cooperatives, to negotiate with buyers to secure better prices. Fair Trade companies receive the highest possible scores in the Ethical Fashion Report.