Cottoning on to the true cost of high street fashion

Fashion

Cottoning on to the true cost of high street fashion

Globally, up to 100 million smallholder farmers depend on cotton for their income. They are, however, at the very bottom of the garment industry chain, largely invisible and without a voice, ignored by a trillion-dollar industry that cannot exist without their produce.

There are many injustices in the cotton industry, which also extend to garment factories.

The Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013 in which 1,137 workers died and more than 2,500 were injured, sparked outrage worldwide. Pressure from trade unions and campaigners like Clean Clothes Campaign saw 180 multinationals sign a legally binding Accordforcing safety inspections on the factories they use in Bangladesh and legal action if they don’t adhere to it.

This is but one step in the right direction to improve textile factory workers’ conditions. Sadly, however, the same attention doesn’t seem to extend to the first and arguably most valuable link in the fashion supply chain – the farmers who grow the cotton that the industry depends on.

There are a number of possible reasons for this negligence. One of which is that the ongoing “sustainable” and “ethical” debates in the fashion and garment industry fail to address the situation of cotton producers.

Sustainability in clothing supply chains has become synonymous with the environmental impact of sourcing the raw material while ethical debates centre around factory workers. This is understandable, considering the enormous environmental footprint left by the industry and the well-documented human rights abuses suffered by workers. However, these debates often leave cotton farmers in India, west Africa and beyond without a thought or protection.

Meanwhile, an industry worth trillions, is still unable to provide a sustainable and profitable livelihood for the millions of smallholders who grow the seed cotton the textile industry depends on.

Alice Johnston

Alice Johnston

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