Top fashion designers push ‘clean cotton’
LONDON — If you think your underwear is clean, activists at London Fashion Week might beg to differ.
Top designers and models are championing “ clean cotton” on behalf of the Environmental Justice Foundation, a nongovernmental group that hopes to call attention to the cotton industry’s alleged connection to pesticide poisoning, child labor, environmental depletion and thousands of deaths a year.
The campaign, called “ Pick Your Cotton Carefully,” sells organic and fairtrade cotton T- shirts. The foundation hopes to ban cotton produced through forced child labor and to expose the use of pesticides in central Asia and West Africa that it calls deadly.
“ Without a doubt it kills people and it kills wildlife,” said Juliette Williams, the foundation’s co- founder.
The foundation enlisted the help of four designers to create the T- shirts: Luella Bartley, Betty Jackson and Katharine Hamnett — who are showing at London Fashion Week — and French designer Christian Lacroix. Hamnett has worked for the cause since 2003, when a trip to cotton farms in Africa introduced her to impoverished farmers.
In the United States, organic cotton is probably the most common “ green” fabric. Wal- Mart is now the biggest seller of organic cotton products worldwide.
The British campaign follows the foundation’s threeyear investigation into trade and agricultural practices of cotton worldwide.
One of their main targets is Uzbekistan, the third largest exporter of cotton. The foundation claims the government forces children as young as 7 out into the fields to pick cotton. An official who refused to give his name at the Uzbekistan Embassy in London denied the allegation and said the former Soviet bloc country is the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by its competitors.
Retailers in Britain have taken notice of the foundation’s cause. Tesco and Marks & Spencer have banned the use of child- labor produced cotton from Uzbekistan.
But Terry Townsend, the executive director of the International Cotton Advisory Committee — which promotes the cotton industry — says these companies are misinformed.
“ These kinds of claims are just unbelievable to people who work in the industry and travel to Uzbekistan and know what’s going on there,” Townsend said.
Townsend said that many of the problems identified by activists do not reflect the industry as a whole and that child labor, pesticide pollution and the draining of the Aral Sea in central Asia started and ended with the Soviet era.
The cotton industry employs 350 million people worldwide and produces 26 million tons of cotton a year. Only 53,000 tons of cotton are produced by organic and fair- trade sources each year — not enough to meet demand, Townsend said.