Or­ganic cot­ton

Top fash­ion de­sign­ers push ‘clean cot­ton’

The Covington News - - Agriculture & Outdoors - By Re­gan McTarsney

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.

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