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A Compelling Reason to Choose Organic Cotton

Updated on September 4, 2008
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

The Fabric of Our Lives?

By now most people have heard of the child trafficking that is taking place to keep the world in chocolate treats, as well as the horrid conditions for children on coffee plantations, Nike sweatshops and other areas. Recently there has been more news, this time from the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is the world's third-largest cotton exporter. The massive amount of cotton that is grown, picked and exported has taken over the lives of an entire area, and not for the better. There are allegations that the forced child labor in the cotton industry is a deliberate state policy with nothing more than greed at its base.

So, how widespread is Uzbek cotton? One in every four garments made contains the cotton.

Child Labor occurs all over the world, but the cotton industry is one of the worst offenders.
Child Labor occurs all over the world, but the cotton industry is one of the worst offenders.

BBC Documentary Results in UK Boycott

In October of 2007 the BBC broadcast a documentary showing the condition of this country and the conditions that children as young as seven years old were living and working in. It showed huge trucks filled with children on their way to pick cotton in the cotton fields and then as they came back to the barracks like structures where they stayed. The children admitted that they were being paid but further investigation revealed that the pay was actually 40% less than what the government was reporting. Where other countries were using machinery to produce and harvest the cotton, Uzbekistan was using children.

Several major British retailers decided to boycott the Uzbek cotton after the documentary aired, including Marks and Spencer. Unfortunately the United States garment industry did not see fit to do the same. Some of the argument against the boycott was that ultimately it would be the country's poor that suffered but that isn't so. The people who will be the most affected are the government officials and their families who are making the money from the crop.

Government Denies the Exploitation of Children

Despite the documentary the officials still deny the use of child labor in agri-business, citing the international laws on child labor. Yet consider this. Every fall the schools are shut down by the state and the students and teachers are sent into the cotton fields. The headmasters of the schools are given cotton quotas and are required to make sure the students are picking the necessary amount. If a child does not pick their required weight of cotton they are given detentions and their grades are threatened. If the children balk, refuse, or continue to do badly they can be expelled.

The Cost of Cotton

Environmental Impact

If it was only the child labor, the slave labor, then it would certainly be worth knowing about and standing against. However, sadly there is another massive impact as well. The environmental impact of the chemicals and irresponsible use of natural resources is almost impossible to imagine. Respiratory and other health problems from the high levels of toxins the residents of this area are exposed to are a fact of life

Uzbekistan was once a thriving fishing area on the edge of the Aral Sea. Many species of fish swam in the waters and boats left their moorings to gather fish early each morning. Currently, because of the level of chemical use, and the lack of good water irrigation and conservation practices, the Aral Sea is now only about 15% if its previous size.

Fishing vessels list to the side on desert-like, parched sea beds. Important habitats have been eradicated including thousands of acres of wetlands. Over 25 native species of fish have been lost. Other countries in the area have questionable practices when it comes to the cotton crops but none quite so severe as Uzbekistan.

Counting the Cost

With organic cotton taking in only about 1% of the total sales for cotton there is no way it can fill in the gap.

Countries like Bangladesh that import the Uzbek cotton are concerned that boycotts will cause them to be unable to procure cotton at a price that their garment manufacturers can afford. As with so many things, this issue has no easy answers. What one person does has an effect on the rest of humanity for good or for bad. It is important that as consumers we know what we are buying and what impact our purchases have on the world.

Buying organic cotton clothing is more important than ever. The price is higher, the variety more limited. You can find organic cotton clothing online easily and the variety is growing each day. Paying more is difficult in any economy and the need to buy things at warehouse prices is often insurmountable. We generally pay for the things we feel are important.

Buying cheaply often means that the cost was extensive....for someone. .


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    • deblipp profile image

      deblipp 6 years ago

      Excellent information. I have a hub on organic cotton baby clothing that you may be interested in. It seems we have similar or connected interests in that regard.

    • ahmadraza212 profile image

      ahmadraza212 7 years ago from Pakistan

      great hub nice information

    • Pardon Me profile image

      Pardon Me 8 years ago

      Great Hub!

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Excellent hub. My husband is from the neighboring country of Tajikistan, where similar policies reign, although I believe the student workers are primarily high school and college age. My husband actually has lots of funny stories about his days in the cotton fields, as his school consisted entirely of city slickers who couldn't harvest their allotted quota of cotton to save their life. They came up with all sorts of ingenious ways to make it appear that they had, from hiding students in the trucks under the cotton while it was being weighed (until officials started stabbing in with pitchforks to test) to outright theft. (And people wonder why corruption is so widespread in these countries!)

      Some are less funny. One year during the Tajik civil war, the government provided the students so little food that they ended up killing and eating their camp's guard dog.

    • solarstories profile image

      solarstories 9 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Wow. Very good hub and very disturbing. I am always glad to see someone making a stand on human rights. Every little action counts.