The cotton trade – why we need to build the Fair trade and organic cotton industry.

Cotton is one of the main fibres used in textile production all over the world. Until I watched the True Cost Movie, I had no idea about the cotton trade, either standard or organic. I also listened to a Liz Earle Wellbeing Podcast that featured Rebecca Winckworth, who co- founded White and Green, a fair trade cotton brand, who talked about the industry and highlighted the problem. Read on to find out more about why we need to look to organic cotton and alternative textiles.

What is Cotton?

Cotton is a plant that has been used for thousands of years for textile production. Cotton, once produced into a thread or yarn is a lightweight, soft and breathable textile making it perfect for bedding or clothing.  Traditionally it has been an Eco friendly and sustainable crop, but a growing demand for the fibre has meant a change in farming practices. The modern production methods are neither good for the environment or the farmers producing it.

Cotton Textile production

Cotton is grown all over the world with, India and Pakistan being amongst the biggest producers. Traditionally a cotton farm would be a family run business with hand pickers using a natural organic method. Crops would be rotated around the land to protect and nurture the soil, maintaining sound ecological production. Today, the high demand for cotton due to increased population, fast fashion and cheaper clothing prices has caused a drastic change in farming practices.

At present the majority of cotton production comes from genetically modified seeds with the use of highly chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Approximately one quarter of the worlds pesticide use is in cotton production – many of which have carcinogenic properties. Farmers are often loaned money to purchase the GMO cotton seeds which, after initially increasing crop yield, ruin the soil biodiversity and ruin the land for further production. This combined with debt that spirals out of control has led to mental illness amongst cotton pickers. High suicide rates amongst the industry causes devastation to many communities and destroys families. The chemicals used leach into the surrounding land and waterways. They are subsequently inhaled, not only by the workers but by whole villages. This can cause illness, birth defects and cancers amongst the cotton production community.

cotton picker
photo credit – The Guardian

What can we do about it?

The number one action we can take is to buy Fairtrade organic cotton. Fairtrade and organic often go hand in hand. This ensures ethical working conditions for the farmers and less harm to the environment. There is however a slight issue in this, in that currently there simply isn’t the enough organic cotton grown to meet the demands of the fast fashion industry. So what else can we do? Look for alternative sustainable clothing materials, such as bamboo, alpaca and Tencel. Research the brands we buy and check their ethical credentials. Brands such as People Tree  have strong ethical and sustainable and manufacturing principles. Looking after after our clothes and buy quality over quantity, therefore reducing our footprint over all.

For more information about sustainable style check out my other posts here.

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