In 2018 consumers are increasingly conscious of the dangers posed by climate change. Plastic bags and straws are becoming a thing of the past and we are encouraged to take deliberate steps to minimize our food and plastic waste. The fast fashion industry should also not escape critical attention, it is after all enormously pollutive, highly wasteful and riddled with destructive practices. In contrast, the production of organic cotton is one way in which the slow fashion industry is embracing a kinder more equitable system. Organic cotton sustains ecosystems and seeks to empower and protect farmers, workers and consumers.
So what is it?
Organic cotton is beloved by sustainable fashion advocates for its many virtues but what is it exactly? Well organic cotton, like organic food, is farmed and processed without the use of pesticides, genetically modified seeds or synthetic fertilizers. More pesticide is sprayed on conventional cotton than any other crop in the world, in fact 16% of pesticides worldwide are applied on cotton fields. Because such a heavy quantity of toxic chemicals are used in the production of conventional cotton it poses a severe health hazard for workers as well as being extremely damaging to the environment. These chemicals can run off into water ways, lakes and rivers and poison marine life, as well as contaminate the local water supply relied upon by communities.
Safer working environments
As mentioned in a previous articlelink back to article much of the worlds cotton comes from the developing world, specifically India and China. Here workers have little access to safety equipment or health regulations and as a result, up to 20,000 deaths are caused each year by pesticide poisoning in developing countries and in the US, which is also a major cotton producer, more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to chemical exposure. These chemicals are also breathed in by garment workers during the production process. Chemical residue can remain trapped in the fibres of clothing and can cause, skin rashes, headaches and dizziness to the consumers who buy and wear the clothes. Farming and producing organic cotton, by contrast presents no such risk. Farmers are not exposed to toxic chemicals and pesticides and therefore are guaranteed a safer working environment.
Image via source.ethicalfashionforum.com
Protection against abuse and forced labour
There is certainly a dark side to the fashion industry. Documentaries like The True Cost and Elizabeth Cline’s book Over-Dressed, have highlighted the underbelly of the fashion world as a place riddled with systematic abuse and exploitation. A place where attempts at unionisation are met with violence, factories carelessly dispose of toxic waste and a lack of regulation and callous disregard led to a Bangladeshi factory collapse in 2013 that killed over 1000 people.
One of the most horrific practices in the fashion industry is the use of forced labour. Uzbekistan is one of the largest producers of cotton in the world. Lacking the technological sophistication of countries like the US within Uzbekistan people are still required to pick cotton by hand. The repressive Uzbek government therefore enforce a system of institutionalised forced labor. Human rights group Ant Slavery claim that ‘Farmers are forced to grow cotton or they face severe financial penalty or removal from their land. At harvest time over a million citizens across the country including doctors and teachers are forced out of their regular jobs to spend weeks in the field picking cotton.… Despite widespread knowledge of these abuses textile traders and companies have been complicit by buying and selling cotton from Uzbekistan.’ Although many companies have pledged not to do use Uzbek cotton it till ends up in global supply chains.
Certified organic cotton by contrast is fairly traded and regulated, this ensures safe working conditions and guarantees that workers are paid a fair wage. By growing organic cotton farmers become both economically and socially empowered and are able to develop more sustainable communities.
Nat Geo Image
Organic cotton also has significant environmental benefits. In fact, it uses an enormous 71% less water and 62% less energy than conventional cotton. It also doesn't damage the soil and has less impact on the air. Communities in developing countries also often face water shortages but organic cotton is 80% rain fed, which dramatically reduces pressure on local water sources. The absence of toxic chemicals and pesticides also means that water is protected from contamination.
When you buy organic cotton, you are supporting the livelihood of farmers and garment workers and investing in a fairer more environmentally sustainable industry. Organic cotton only accounts for 0.7% of global cotton production therefore the price of organic cotton is sometimes, but not always higher.
Eight Hour Studio
Here at Eight Hour Studio we use 100% GOTS certified organic cotton with a satin finish to create products that are soft, comfortable and luxurious. We value the wellbeing of workers involved in every stage of the production process and put a sense of environmental consciousness and human compassion at the forefront of everything we do. When buying our products, you have a guarantee of organic integrity and can feel proud that you are helping to support local and developing communities and are embracing the ethics of sustainable fashion. Together through our consumer choices we can create a more equitable, greener and of course stylish world.