Infographic by Cottoned On - The organic cotton initiative. A joint Soil Association/GOTS campaign.
Switching over from conventional to organic farming methods can make a huge difference to the state of the environment, the lives of farmers and entire communities. As cotton growing is a huge worldwide industry, the potential benefits from a changeover to organic cotton farming would impact an immense amount of people.
Most of the clothes we wear and the fabrics we use around the home are made of cotton - from dresses and jeans to towels and bed sheets, and stacks of household items inbetween! 75% of this cotton is farmed in developing countries, where 99% of cotton farmers live (1).
The cotton products we buy have a story woven into them, telling us about the daily lives of these farmers and their families - and it is often a story of exploitation, land degredation and the imposition of significant health risks.
In many cases, developing world famers have a lack of awareness about safety when it comes to pesticide use. Coupled with a lack of access to protective gear and low levels of literacy, it becomes a recipe for disaster. Pesticide labels and instructions are often not read or followed accurately, and as a result, Acute Pesticide Poisoning(2) is a daily occurence among the farmers. The chemicals applied are also washed off paddocks and farmland after rain or irrigation, which can poison nearby waterways and drinking water. They build up in the soil and can lead to toxicity, making the land unsafe for future production.
When farmed using conventional methods, cotton is an extremely pesticide heavy crop. In India less than 5% of crop land grows cotton, but it accounted for a whopping 54% of the total annual use of pesticides! (1). To create and apply pesticides also requires high level of fossil fuels, which means as oil prices rise, so do the prices of these products which the farmers have come to rely on. They must spend or borrow money to pay for these products in order to maintain a viable yield.
Organic farming does not permit farmers to use harmful synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. It teaches them to recycle nutrients through their system, and seek out natural alternatives such as animal and green manures, and clever strategies to reduce pest attack such as trap cropping. It can give more freedom and independence to farmers, who no longer have to struggle under the debt of the pesticide cycle.
When done well, organic farming methods can lead to stronger, more sustainable farms and communities. With an increase in soil fertility, ecosystem biodiversity and an awareness of natural systems, many farmers in developing countries have a chance to improve their lives on their own terms. These are the farmers who carefully tend the cotton that we wear on our backs every day and sleep on in bed every night.
So choose organic cotton clothing and high five some farmers.
We can choose organic cotton clothing which has been certifed as Organic by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). This means a system of safety standards & monitoring has been put into place in all stages of production, from the farm to the factory, to assist in the making of a clean, safe, great quality garment that doesn't leave behind a trail of human and environmental destruction. All Fairtees organic cotton garments are certified by GOTS*.
*(except for our 50% Organic Cotton, 50% Tencel shirts (read more about Tencel), and our Organic Cotton/Polyester Fleece blend jumpers - this is because GOTS can currently only certify 100% Organic Cotton products. The blended textile garments are instead certified Organic Blended Content Standard.
A visit to the Earthpositive supply chain in India sees Lily Cole learn about the organic farming of cotton, as well as the safe & clean dyeing process.
The story of Anan, an Indian farmer caught in the trap of conventional cotton farming. This 10 minute documentary shows how a typical developing world farmer would be using pesticides without safety precautions, the debt involved with purchasing pesticides, and crop failure when pests develop resistance. It also shows the dramatic and tragic effects these events can have on farmers and families through poverty and depression.
An investigation by Greenpeace reveals how the fashion industry is contributing to world-wide water pollution, and how people are demanding change.
(1) : EJF (2007). The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton, Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK, London, UK. ISBN No. 1-904523-10-2.
(2) World Health Organisation: Thundiyil, J.G., Stober, J., Besbelli, N., Pronczuk, J. (2008). Acute Pesticide Poisoning: A proposed classification tool. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, Volume 86, Number 3, March 2008, p.161-240.