A witch in my wardrobe

Amy Leech - 04 October 2012

I choose to support farmers and protect the environment. I choose organic cotton.The contents of my wardrobe don’t change much - you’re more likely to find Narnia in there than this season’s print or cut of jeans.

When I do go clothes shopping, the way the fabric has been produced doesn’t influence whether I’ll take it home or not. But having spent the last few months digging deeper into the impacts of cotton production, I have learnt that my attitude to clothes and how they are produced is in need of a makeover.

Cotton is grown in a field, just like food. Sorry to be simple, but to be honest I’d never really stopped to think about what that means before.

It is both a comfort and concern knowing I am not alone. Unlike food, not many people stop to think about the consequences that our demand for ‘fast fashion’ is having on the environment and the millions of farmers who produce cotton around the world.

We buy more cotton today than ever before – it makes up 40% of the textiles we buy, 100 million cotton farmers produce cotton in 80 countries worldwide.

That’s a lot of cotton, a lot of people, and a lot of countries – a big impact. And I’ve found that, on the whole, this impact is not good.

Growing cotton is a toxic business; it uses a lot of pesticides – putting in peril the lives of women, men and children in cotton farming communities. 77 million cotton workers suffer poisonings from pesticides each year.

Most cotton growing does little to help farmers feed themselves or their families – cotton is normally a ‘monoculture’, grown as the one and only crop year in, year out. This makes cotton farmers and their families reliant on buying food and vulnerable to food shortages.

Cotton is putting an unsustainable pressure on water resources. One of the thirstiest crops we farm, it uses an average of 11,000 litres of water for every kg of cotton produced, draining precious ground water resources. The intensive use of pesticides in cotton’s production results in pollution of waterways across the globe.

Indeed, Bt cotton is the only GM crop that has been widely commercialised in developing countries. Promising higher yields and less pesticide use, Bt cotton has been sold as a ‘pro-poor’ solution in these countries. In practice, GM technology is expensive, unreliable and toxic. Poor farmers are gambling their livelihoods on expensive crops that don’t guarantee higher returns.

The list goes on.

And all the while organic cotton farmers around the world are showing us that the damaging consequences of producing this important crop are completely unnecessary – cotton can be good for people and the planet.

Unfortunately, while organic cotton production is proven to bring numerous benefits to farmers, their families and the environment, these fail to be realised because far too few brands and consumers have cottoned on to them.

When I look at the contents of my wardrobe now, my thoughts fly to farmers and their families who have produced the cotton in them – what were the consequences of my thought-free choices?

Fortunately my choices will be based on facts, not fantasy in the future.

You can find out the facts at www.cottonedon.org – and please spread the word. Every piece of cotton clothing impacts the environment and the people that grow it. It’s time to change cotton for the better - choose organic.

Have you cottoned on yet?

Amy is Research Assistant at the Soil Association.

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Jennifer Stevenson
04 October 2012 12:59

You're so right, Amy! Cotton feels like the right, sustainably-ethical choice: a simple,natural fibre, none of that nasty polyester... But - fashion victims that we are - we need to know more about how it's grown...

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