Day to day, it’s hard to imagine anything harmful behind the universally-loved “natural” fabric known as cotton. Those adorable, irresistibly upbeat Cotton Inc. commercials, however, cast a veil over the problematic situations that take place daily in the conventional cotton industry. Conventional refers to the type of cotton agriculture with heavy pesticide and herbicide usage.
In most cases, developing, low-wage countries play host to cotton fields. Places like China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Brazil, Mali and Syria generally harbor unacceptable working conditions. These include a lack of medical relief for the negative side effects of pesticides and machine-induced injuries, as well as poor world market positioning (leading to low price demands for the farmers).
The Detriments of Conventional Cotton at a Glance:
- 100 million conventional cotton farmers live in poverty and on the brink of starvation
- 1 million individuals in the industry suffer from long-term pesticide poisoning
- 200,000 cotton famers commit suicide because of the debts they owe from buying expensive pesticides
- 20,000 people die every year from accidental pesticide poisoning
- pesticides infiltrate the water systems and ruin ecosystems
For more in-depth information on the problems with conventional cotton farming and processing, click here.
The best solution to the environmental and social issues is to encourage the growth of organic cotton.
This has been fashion designer Katharine Hamnett’s mission since 2003, when she visited Mali, Africa, and witnessed the destruction that conventional cotton has on the lives of those involved. Hamnett traded in her distressed denim designs for organic cotton t-shirts with environmental and social justice messages. Her Organic Cotton Campaign is one of many, but perhaps the closest to her heart.
By converting to organic cotton purchases, you, too can help end the incredible harm that this ancient industry is causing. According to Hamnett, encouraging the growth of organic cotton can help increase farmer income by 50% (mostly from a reduction in production costs) and prevent further ecological damage to the environment. Hamnett’s organic cotton shirt designs above were commissioned to spread awareness and support the organic cotton industry with the financial backing it so desperately needs.
To learn more about Katharine Hamnett, her mission, and her campaigns, visit her website.
Because organic is still more difficult to find and is more expensive than regular cotton, try to purchase one or two organic cotton items (rather than overhauling your entire wardrobe). The simple act of supporting the organic cotton industry is a step in the right direction. Your decisions can improve the lives of many and the planet you share.
Here are some great links to organic cotton retailers:
- Gaiam: offers natural everyday wear, fitness wear, accessories, household goods in organic and fair trade options
- Patagonia: stylish, high quality collection of organic cotton garments
- Blue Canoe: great organic cotton basics for women
- Natural Clothing Company: offers a wide range of eco-friendly clothes, both cotton and non-cotton