“Cotton is one of the world’s most lethal and dirtiest crops”
Has been grown since 3000B.C. in Pakistan and South America; naturally grown cotton had up to twelve shades, from beige, red and green. After Industrial Revolution, commercial cultivation of cotton turned towards white cotton - as a result of us of synthetic dyes.
Modern pesticides are the ancestors of nerve gasses used during second world and were introduced to agriculture as a cheaper substitute to labour and machinery.
Cotton production is responsible for releasing of GBP 1M worth of chemical pesticides each year and accounts for 16% of global insecticide release. Herbicides leak to waterways; affecting fish and wildlife. They are known as a cause of thyroid problems in rats, liver problems in rabbits and cancer in fish. . There are four groups of pesticides most dangerous of which are insecticides for example Endosulfan- most widely used – is killing the farmers around the world. As pre the WTO report 99% of the farmers experience pesticide related death, with 3M poisoning s every year, from which 20.000 are deaths
No protective gear
40C temperatures do not allow wearing protective gear
No storage facilities for pesticides
An interesting way of “keeping cotton out of grass” and in the same time maintaining the reduction of the pesticides - was a creation of GM Seed.
GM Seed is the scientifically modified cotton created in US by the Texas based company Monsanto. The main characteristic of this plant is that it fights the worms and insects itself instead of using pesticides. It uses less water; captures more solar energy and is resistant to high and low temperatures.
Another advantage worth mentioning is that BT Seed reduced the volume of pesticides applied to cotton in US by 90% and what also leads to the positive environmental effect of less fuel use from application. The genetically modified crop however good in one way - on the other way forced both: weeds and insects to adapt and fight seed traits; moreover – it brings the risk of emergence of new insects and pests resistant to the scientifically modified seeds.
The success of use of Bt seed and any similar ones can only last while accompanied by constant improvements and investments in infrastructure and research.
A good example proving the above is the use of US BT Seed in China, who in 2008 was the world’s largest cotton producer as well as the consumer. China was one of the 1st countries that tried Bt seed, which application initially in fact decreased application of pesticide by 70%. This was supposed to be the proof of how much other countries can gain from the achievements of other countries like US.
The outcome however was much different that initially expected., as the Bt cotton was helpful in fighting one type of cotton’s worst enemies- Bollworm, which was the primary pest to China’s cotton. After bollworm was damaged the so called secondary pests, previously being seen as minor became now the major ones- we are talking here about “Mirid” insects that previously were kept under control by the pesticides that were used for fighting bollworm.
The conclusion is that without education , public support, farmers training and technologies ( so highly developed and implemented in US) such creations as Bt seed can work in the opposite way for poor countries. Poor farmer education, illegal and black market seed and the fact that each cotton growing region has its unique ecology of weeds and insects should be taken into consideration.
The problem here is that most of the research is directed and focused on wealthy countries. According to a World Bank report the agricultural research in wealthy countries is four times more intensive than in the poorer ones; for example fertilizer formulas used in West African cotton regions were over 35 years old.
Another example worth mentioning is India and Pakistan, with their cotton industry characteristics:
Small number of acres
Illiteracy of farmers
Lack of government support
An accumulation of the above factors can lead to catastrophes that hit the cotton farmers in Anda Pradesh region, when after worms ate their crops 500 of them committed suicide - followed by thousands of other farmers over next six years. Those farmers were provided with pesticides, however wrong pesticide with wrong direction was used, as most of the farmers were illiterate and could not read. Pesticides happened to be useless for worm but worked as poison on farmers instead.
In Benin for example dozens of deaths occur as a result of pesticides being sprayed on cotton then transferred over to maize the farmers eat.
In Burkina Faso- a half of cotton farmers have pesticide related health problems. Another problem is corruption that the drivers distributing the cotton are facing- often being stopped on their way and forced to pay bribes.
These are only a few of the problems coming from the cotton production. Others worth mentioning are:
Reduction of soil fertility
Disappearance of ground waters, e.g. Aral Sea reduced to 15% of its former volume
Water pollution – contaminated rivers in US, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, and West Africa. In 1995 Endosulfan led to death of 240 thousand fish in Alabama Rivers
As the bigger cotton production comes to a greater public understanding, people haven takes steps to redress the inequalities in global cotton, which is only one element showing why eco awareness and eco fashion has grown out of being just a trend into 21st century movement. Consumers play a key role in creating this movement, as through their demands the fashion world needs to respond to “green issues” that have initially been seen as a “threat”.
The evidences are plenty:
- Spending on ethical clothing grew by 26% between 2005& 2006, where 61% of people chose a product based on company’s reputation
- Mintel’s Green and Ethical Consumer 2006 Report it found that one in four adults is “ Keen to Green” and use of child labour was one of the top five consumer concern.
- A” YouGov” survey commissioned by M&S and Organic Exchange foundation the demand for organic cotton products is projected to increase the use of organic cotton to 110% each year
It is not only companies who implement the eco friendly fashion approach:
Vogue Magazine’s October 2006 issue devoted 10 pages on ethical clothing, followed by Vanity Fair, which issued their first “Green Issue”. Another one was Elle with their 2007 spring article called “ Eco Chic Heats Up”
So, why it is worth to be sustainable? And does it pay to be ethical?
These are the questions that everyone: You, Me as a buyer, companies producing clothes to the top of the chain of fashion world – should try to find the answer to.
Sustainability presents plenty of opportunities and advantages
It can be a revenue driver, as consumers increasingly search for ethical clothes and companies that do nothing have higher waste- disposal costs, higher energy, fuel, packaging, water costs. Being sustainable means the risk reduction in protecting a company’s’ brand value. The above prove that “being green is no longer an option, it is a must”.
The influences on how important the “greening “of fashion has become are visible on fashion shows around the world:
- London Fashion week knows as : “Esthetica” devoted to designing in eco-sustainable fashion with its debut in 2006
- Paris Pret-a Porter “ Ethis”
- Berlin Premium Show “ Green Area” started in 2007
- New York Fashion Week “ Edun”
- Sao Paolo “ E Fabrics”- where dresses are made from eco friendly fabrics, like organic cotton, recycled PET , fish leather
Cotton and fabrics today are also being judged on a sustainability basis. World demand for organic cotton is also constantly growing.
Why organic cotton?
The organic cotton projects are set up to fight poverty and the benefits of groving it include:
- Increased income and better health for organic cotton farmers, where exposure to toxic pesticides is eliminated
- Premiums of 20% are paid to farmers grooving organic
- In the long term yields for organic cotton perform better
- Farmers and communities have more to say and better choice over the buyers they can sell to
- Organic cotton protects the wildlife and health of soil, which is more prone to adapt to climate change and extreme weather conditions
As a proof on how important the need for organic cotton is, is the rise of organic cotton retailers and among them companies such as:
- Bo Weevil- offering Ecotton collection of T-shirts and leisurewear, home accessories
- Green Fibres- responsible for developing certificate standards for organic, due and bleach free cotton basics and accessories
- Gosypium- created in India in 1998 to protect the rights of cotton farmers in India
The list is constantly growing and other worth mentioning are: People Tree, Noir, Katherine Hamnett range of clothes, where all cotton is organic and made under fair labour conditions.
What I can do?
- Refashion your own wardrobe by DIYing and redesigning your old clothes
- Accessorize properly and make sure your wardrobe has a range of timeless basics
- Use eco friendly bags instead of plastic ones
- Shop vintage and in charity shops
- Hand wash your clothes instead of using washing machine
- Finally made your own clothes