Cotton and cotton textile industries are the center of the economic growth of both the developed and developing countries, contributing to development that is socially and sustainably responsible. Cotton is the raw material of wealth, industrialization, and development but is the cotton industry fair and sustainable?.
The global cotton consumption has expanded at a CAGR of 3.1% and is expected to grow further during 2019-2024. China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are the largest cotton consumers in the world, accounting for more than 65% of global consumption. For many years, China and India have been the major markets for cotton consumption. However, in recent years, cotton consumption has increased dramatically in Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The US accounts for 36% of global cotton exports. Global cotton exports were worth USD 52.77 billion in the year 2016, which was a decline of 6.4% from the year 2015. Some of the significant cotton-producing countries are China, India, Pakistan, and the US.
China and India together hold a share of 46% in global cotton production followed by the US. The global cotton production is expected to grow at a slower pace than consumption during the forecast period due to the falling price trend in the international market.
The world needs to raise wages for workers in the supply chain to above the poverty line if we really care about protecting the people who make our clothes. Research shows that this only requires a 20% increase in the Australian retail price for a cotton tee made in India. This increase can lift wages by up to 225% in India, closing the living wage gap for the most vulnerable workers in the supply chain, such as cotton farmers.
Cost-cutting impacts those with the weakest bargaining position, mainly cotton farmers – cotton prices have been on a downward trend for the past 10 years. Without realizing it, our demand for low prices can cause workers in other countries to work for less than a living wage.
Recent research calculates the living wage gap in India, broken down by region, gender, skill, and the type of employment. For example, female workers on cotton farms in Gujarat earn 207% below the living wage. Casual female workers in Haryana have a living wage gap of about 34%.
In 2012 a group of the world’s largest ethical trade organizations formed the Global Living Wage Coalition.
This organization has developed a manual for measuring the living wage and requiring living wages to be paid to their producers. The producers are audited along the supply chain and in return can advertise their compliance with ethical standards. Shoppers will soon be able to look for a label – similar to the Fairtrade symbol – to know that living wages have been paid throughout the supply chain.
There has been a spate of deaths and reports of hundreds of farmers falling ill in some parts of India; linked to exposure to their use of insecticides, mainly on cotton crops bringing into focus the need for better safety standards and enforcement of regulations on pesticide manufacturers. Doctors have also revealed that they’ve treated about 500 farmers and agricultural workers who have suffered inhalation poisoning from pesticides. The issue has also led to calls for international retail chains, which use India’s cotton in their garments, to do more to source their products ethically.
“A lot of pesticides, when they are used by farmers, they don’t use protective equipment because they can’t afford to buy masks and gloves, so many of them suffer bad health and some of them even die,” says Shishir Goenka, the founder of Fusion Clothing, a manufacturer based in Mumbai that uses organic cotton to produce garments for brands in countries including the UK, US, and Australia. He says there is growing interest in the ethical practices of retailers globally but that there is still a long way to go and brands should be far more concerned about sourcing policies. He adds that many are unwilling to pay a 20 percent premium for organic, pesticide-free, cotton.
The majority of the workers are not using the necessary precautionary measure, they’re just trying one cloth around their mouth and they are eating without washing their hands while using pesticides. The majority of pesticides don’t have an antidote, so whatever pesticide they are selling, they must have some antidote and they should give protective kits to the farmers.
In many cases, pesticide use is reported to have been on cotton crops grown from genetically modified seeds to kill a pest called the bollworm – to which the crop is supposed to be resistant.
Farmers’ issues have come into sharp focus in India, with other problems plaguing the broader sector and cotton farming in particular. There have been high rates of farmer suicides in the country, with Maharashtra having some of the worst rates.
Much of this is blamed on the fact that small farm owners in particular find it hard to turn a profit. Crop failure, often due to weather conditions, for example, it can be devastating for farmers who regularly take out loans to buy seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers.
Organic cotton means cotton that is grown without using harmful pesticides, chemicals, and synthetic fertilizers. The methods and materials used in organic cotton farming maintain soil fertility and reduce negative impacts on rivers and freshwater sources close to the cotton farms. Further, organic cotton production does not use genetically modified (GM) seeds. Unlike the regular cotton crop that uses harmful chemicals and harms the environment, organic cotton is a preferred sustainable and ethical choice.
Organic cotton has proven benefits and nothing can beat its claim for sustainability, being the answer to the question raised- Is the cotton industry fair and sustainable?.
Farmers, who shift to organic cotton farming, not only make their lives healthy but also benefit the ecosystem. As it eliminates the use of pesticides and fertilizers, organic cotton prevents contamination of groundwater, thus making drinking water clean and safe. It has been found that the impact of water pollution of organic cotton is 98% less compared to conventional cotton production.
Organic cotton production, as discussed, is the more ethical choice. Why? Because of its versatile benefits to humans and the ecosystem. Regular cotton production that uses harmful fertilizers and pesticides, apart from affecting the livelihood of people working in the textile industry wouldn’t last very long because of its large number of cons rather than pros. Ask yourself, how is such a huge demand for cotton a good thing? And organic cotton is an earth-friendly choice, how can it be utilized to its maximum so as to improve the living quality of our planet? Mass awareness needs to be created for the same!