Cotton is crucially important to the global textile industry and to the economic and social improvement of developing countries. Although there may not be any difference in quality between Fair Trade and ‘normal’ cotton, there is a huge difference in the way the small scale farmers who produce it are treated. Buying Fairtrade means that cotton farmers have been paid a fair price for their crop, and the Fair Trade premium feeds back into building resilient local communities.
While Fairtrade products have a positive impact on the economy of developing countries by guaranteeing fair and stable prices for producers, organically produced cotton provides further environmental benefits, especially when compared with the alternatives. The pesticides used on conventional cotton plantations come from hazardous petrochemicals, posing a threat not only to the farmers, but also to the fragile ecological balance of the local landscape.
By extension, Fair Trade also makes it easier for cotton producers to go organic, frequently acting as a ‘fast route’ to organic certification because Fairtrade standards demand specific environmental requirements.
Organic may have joined the mainstream a while back, but the consumer demand for Fair Trade is increasing, and with it awareness about supply chain issues, CSR and environmental responsibility.
The number of chain and superstores now selling Fair Trade cotton items alongside their other products is growing.
But in the UK, a handful of ethical companies are committed to sourcing and selling only Fairtrade, organic cotton.
Little Green Radicals were one of the first to receive Fairtrade certification back in 2002. As such I think they deserve some recognition. They sell only organic, Fairtrade certified cotton clothing for babies and children. With playful slogans on kids wear such as “I recycle my tantrums”, “Pick your own” and “Give peas a chance”, their brightly coloured, gender neutral collections, have become popular across the UK, and internationally.
Josie Bragg has designed the Little Green Radicals collections for three years now, she is passionate about using toxin free, durable materials that have not harmed people or planet anywhere along the supply chain:
“Our supply chain is totally transparent. All our clothes are made in a Fairtrade factory in India. We have to pay more for Fairtrade, but it’s worth it. No toxins are used in any of our products at any point during manufacture. And, not only is organic cotton people and planet friendly, it actually feels so much nicer, and lasts forever, our customers often tell us how our clothes are handed down to younger brothers and sisters.”
Arthur and Henry are a UK based ethical men’s clothing company selling quality organic Fairtrade cotton shirts. In an recent interview with Ethical Weddings owner and director Clare Lissamen explained why ethical clothing means so much to them:
‘It’s about maximising positive impact on planet and people and minimising the negative. Also, quality clothing that wears well and lasts rather than disposable clothing.”
Safia Minney, eco hero, CEO and founder of sustainable fashion label People Tree is a key influencer in the world of ethical fashion. Following a background in Human Rights and ecology, Minney is only too aware of the problems and abuses to people and planet associated with the fashion industry. But she is optimistic that instead of being part of the problem, we can be part of the solution:
“It seems like a very small thing but, choosing a t-shirt or a dress made of organic cotton rather than conventional cotton made through Fair Trade can make a big difference. The environmental impact of fashion is something that should concern us all. Every time you opt to support Fair Trade or organic clothing you are helping to empower farmers, artisans and communities – and importantly putting pressure on the fashion industry to clean up it’s act.”
So, next time you’re shopping for what seems like an innocent cotton T shirt it’s worth bearing in mind that cotton farming uses 32% of the world’s pesticides and insecticides while cotton plantations only take up 2.5% of the world’s farmland. That seems like a huge imbalance. 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning are reported by the World Health Organisation each year, and out of these a staggering 20,000 are pesticide related deaths, many of which are associated with the production of non-organic cotton.
Organic cotton used to be expensive, but is currently beginning to compete with non-organic garments, and the ease of sourcing and shopping for ethical clothingboth on and offline, means there are no longer any real excuses not buying fairly.