About 8000 years have passed since cotton was first cultivated and discovered in the ancient city of Mesopotamia as well as Mexico – and it still is one of the most distinct fibres in the world. The fibre can be credited for having versatile properties, incredible comfort and giving numerous uses as cotton -goes from cultivation to garment. Different people at various key stages have a hand in the making of cotton. Cotton cultivation takes up about 2.5% of the planet’s arable land. Regardless of the importance, it has, cotton can be considered as being a fickle crop. It requires long periods without frost and moderate rain and almost constant sunshine to grow and survive. It also needs water in huge amounts.
From field to fabric: the process
It all begins with cottonseed, with planting and cultivation being the initial stages. Cotton farmers plant the cotton seeds by using planters that cover 10 to 22 rows in one go. The mechanical planters make a line in the soil, then drop the seeds in that line and then cover it with soil again. After this, cultivators remove any grass or other material that might interfere with the cotton. Under favourable weather conditions, the cotton flowers and after a period of 3 months become ready for harvesting.
In contemporary cotton manufacturing, machines are used instead of hand-picking. After this, the seed cotton is stacked and then formed into brick-like structures. The cotton goes to the gin after being picked and packed. Though the modern-day cotton gin was invented by American inventor Eli Whitney, the cotton gin has existed since 500 AD – old stone versions of the same technology have been discovered in India
The process of weaving has existed for ages. In India, during ancient times, cotton muslin cloth was so finely made that even 65 meters of the cloth weighed only 0.3 kilograms. No doubt, it required intensive labour. The raw cotton runs through a carding machine that cleans the fibre and lines them into straight rope like structures. These ropes then go to a spinning machine that rotates the fibre at high speed, resulting in cotton yarn. Then the looms are responsible for weaving the yarn into sheets. These sheets are transported to garment manufacturers and other textile manufacturers via cargo ships and planes where they bleach it, dye it or make other finished products.
Employment in the Cotton Industry
In the Indian agriculture landscape, the cultivation of cotton is very important and is also responsible for providing a sustainable livelihood to many people in the country. The popular crop is cultivated in 10.2 million hectares in India, which equates to 30 per cent of the worldwide cotton area. Also, it accounts for about 22 per cent of the total worldwide produce. Over 5.9 million farmers are cotton farmers and around 45 to 50 million people are employed by the cotton industry in India.
About 60% of Indian Textile Industry is cotton based, of which the majority is consumed by the apparel industry. The Indian Textile Industry has more of cotton apparel exports- about 51% as per the Financial Year 2018.
The cotton textile industryis the second largest in creating employment, it sustains a livelihood of 5.8 million farmers and about 40 – 50 million people in other activities like manufacturing, trading and transportation.
Conditions of the cotton producers and workers
The cotton farmers in many developing countries, also including key producers like China and India, live a life full of hardships. The problems they encounter include the effects of change in climate, tough competition from subsidised manufacturers and producers in developed countries and not so great terms and conditions of the trade.
Over 100 million households are engaged in the production of cotton and over 290 million people work in the cotton sector. These are the people that face poor conditions at work.
Anannya Bhattacharjee, international co-ordinator for the AFWA, told the tribunal that despite the recession the garment industry continued to bring in profits. She said workers continued to suffer “shocking, inhuman conditions” and were being paid poverty wages. “Nothing can be more important than a decent living wage for workers working day and night to clothe the world.”
The workers of the garment factories apart from facing infrastructural difficulties also have to fight through high targets and poor working conditions. They are exploited through job insecurities and non paid overtime. The survey of the International Labour Organization conducted in the year 2012-13 stated that 1 in 5 workers, work 7 days a week whereas the others have a 10 hour shift.
Farmers in India state that the availability of water is their top-most priority and the second priority is lucrative crop prices. “We only earn enough to cover our own main expenses,” says Gopal, a cotton farmer. He spends Rs 15,000 to cultivate one acre of cotton, after spending Rs 10,000 for rent each year for every acre he leases. Only if the rainfall is enough, farmers like him earn around Rs 40,000-45,000 per acre. But if the drought persists, they earn less than Rs 5,000 per acre.
In the United States, the average salary for cotton farmers were $56,000 in the year 2014.Cotton farmers earn $52,000 in Louisiana and $64,000 in Georgia. In the West of the country, the earnings vary from $49,000 to $61,000 in Arizona and California.
When it comes to the factory workers, their average pay in India is between Rs. 8000 to Rs. 10,000 a month. Another research pointed that some garment workers in India work 46 hours a week to get an income of Rs. 39 – Rs. 42 an hour. A survey report by International Labour Organization states that Apparel and Garment workers of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are paid $71- $66 a month whereas workers in India and Vietnam earn about $119 – $145 a month.
With cotton being such an important crop that further finishes to make garments that are exported across the world, it is mandatory for the producers as well as the manufacturers to ensure good conditions, pay scale and work culture. Cotton has a vast history and its journey from cultivation to garments should be ethical and fair