Sustainability & Communications Consulting


Sustainability 101

Organic Cotton: Trend or Necessity?

Cotton is a natural fiber largely used in the fashion industry. It is known for its lightness, softness and breathability. About 75% of our clothes contain cotton and 300 million farmers in 80 countries rely on cotton for their livelihoods.

But as customers are increasingly worrying about harmful pesticides and poisonous materials in the food they eat, it is also slowly hitting the clothing industry. More and more studies are warning about the dangers of pesticide use in the fashion industry on our environment and health. And when it comes to pesticide use, the cotton industry is the champion...

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Conventional cotton is responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use, making it one of the most genetically engineered and chemically contaminated crops in the world.

Farmers’ exposure to pesticides, fertilizers and growth regulators have been linked to illness and poisoning. According to the World Health Organizationtwenty thousand people die every year from pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture and close to 1 million a year suffer from long-term pesticide poisoning including cancer, severe skin, eye, and nervous system disorders as well as adverse effects on reproductive health.

Given the health concerns to farmers, the question from the customer's perspective is whether there are pesticides residues in the cotton they are wearing. Unfortunately, there were never enough studies conducted to really answer this question and those that have been published have different conclusions to offer. One undisputable fact that all agree on is that pesticides are poisons. They contaminate soil, water, air, and in addition to killing insects or weeds, they also kill birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.

As chemicals infiltrates our soil and water supplies, it directly impacts the water we drink. According to an analysis of recent E.P.A data, 40 percent of the nation’s community water systems violated the Safe Drinking Water Act at least once due to chemical plants, power plants, sewage treatment centers, etc. 

Now, knowing that pesticides slowly leach into the groundwater over time, the cumulative effect of decades of pesticide use becomes a great concern. A negative level of a particular pesticide or insecticide in our drinking water today is likely not an accurate representation of the amount of pesticides accumulating in our ground water nor the potential dangers on our and our subsequent generations’ health.

And as if all that isn’t bad enough, according to the US Department of Labor, cotton is one of the goods most commonly produced using forced laborForced labor exists in nine countries producing 65% of the world’s cotton – Benin, Burkina Faso, China, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In fact, Uzbekistan is one of the most affected countries and despite recent reforms, systematic forced labor was still rampant in 2017 in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector.

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Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals.

Organic farmers use beneficial insects, crop rotation and compost to enhance biodiversity and protect the air and water.

Since they are no chemicals involved from organic cotton production, people with allergies or with chemical sensitivities can wear organic cotton safely. It is also a much safer option for babies.

Furthermore, organic cotton is centered on the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions guaranteeing workers’ rights and working conditions. These cover minimum wages, working hours, child labor, freedom of association, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and more.

But make sure the organic cotton you buy is GOTS certified

The word “organic” has become a powerful marketing tool, so to make sure the cotton you buy is truly organic, always look for a GOTS certification.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. They are the ones that save you from buying “organic” cotton that was actually finished with toxic dyes or chemical.

And remember that every time you make a purchase, you make a vote. By purchasing clean fabrics, you are creating change in the marketplace. Companies produce things that sell well, and now we have the knowledge that allows us to buy only safe fabric and disrupt the status quo.

Clara SharmaComment