Reels of Indian Fairtrade Cotton, photograph, courtesy of Cotton Roots
Fairtrade–certified cotton farmers get a guaranteed price for their crop. This price never falls below the amount it costs them to grow the cotton, which means they can plan for their future and maintain a decent and dignified sustainable livelihood. Workers can defend their rights. Small farmers are encouraged to join co-operatives.
Cotton Picking, Diadoubala, photograph, 2010, Trevor Leighton
Fairtrade standards limit the use of damaging pesticides and encourage sustainable farming techniques and the use of non-GM seeds. They demand decent conditions for workers. Fairtrade bans the use of child and forced labour. It empowers women by allowing them to earn a living and have a say in decisions affecting their communities.
Maternal Health Clinic, Mafele, photograph, 2010, Trevor Leighton
Fairtrade-certified farmer groups receive an additional amount of money, on top of the guaranteed minimum price, called the Fairtrade Premium. This is invested by farmers in community projects like hospitals, schools and roads, or is used to improve their businesses . The benefits are often felt beyond the Fairtrade farmers themselves. This maternal medical centre in Mali was paid for with the premium farmers had earned from selling their cotton as Fairtrade. Previously, if a pregnant woman from the village needed medical attention or was ready to give birth she would walk for 25 kilometres along a dirt road to the nearest health centre and on many occasions the baby would not survive.
Laura Bailey modelling Fairtrade cotton, photograph, 2010, Trevor Leighton (48)
In November 2005 the first Fairtrade certified cotton products were launched in the UK. Fairtrade gives consumers the opportunity to buy ethically. It links consumer and producer, unlike most retailers who only have contact with the top two levels of the supply chain.
Fairtrade cotton schoolwear, photograph, courtesy of Koolskools
There is huge potential for sales of Fairtrade cotton to grow by increasing the growing number of schools switching to Fairtrade cotton schoolwear and by ensuring publically procured workwear is purchased ethically and sustainably. The Scottish Fair Trade Forum helps schools to make the switch.
Scotland’s historic moves to bring justice in the cotton supply chain continue.
Just as there were successful campaigners and reformers in Scottish history, there are those today who campaign to change attitudes and introduce better systems. A Fair Trade movement has grown and Scotland is a Fair Trade Nation.
Fairtrade cotton has been available in the UK since 2005. There are hundreds of cotton products licensed as Fairtrade on sale on the High Street and online. This number is growing.
Fairtrade cotton addresses the economic challenges faced by cotton farmers. The farmers at the very start of the supply chain receive a guaranteed price for their crop that always covers the cost of sustainable production. It is a safety net in a volatile market. By encouraging co-operatives Fairtrade gives small scale farmers the opportunity to trade globally. It helps with financing, which is key when credit is hard to get. The stable conditions it provides allow long term commitment and sustainability.
Fairtrade bans the use of child or forced labour and empowers workers by upholding their rights. The Fairtrade premium allows communities to develop projects to improve things. It is truly changing lives, and in some cases saving lives, for example where hospitals and medical centres are built.
Fairtrade environmental standards encourage sustainable farming techniques. They restrict the use of damaging pesticides and allow farmers to reuse seeds. Waste is managed, materials are recycled and areas are regenerated. Steps are taken to avoid soil erosion and water pollution.
Fairtrade’s focus is on the farmer, and not the supply chain. However, Fairtrade does require that all companies involved in the manufacturing of Fairtrade certified cotton products submit documentation of decent working conditions.
Organic farming sets strict standards. No synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used. As with Fairtrade cotton, seeds are GM-free and farmers can command a higher price for their crop. Fairtrade certified cotton can be, but is not necessarily, organic.
The truth about cotton is that we can do something to keep it clean. Fairtrade and organic offer cotton a fair future.
Additional references for Fair Future:
- Better Cotton Initiative
- Clean Clothes Campaign
- Cotton Made in Africa
- Fairtrade Foundation
- Fairtrade International
- GOTS – Global Organic Textile Standard
- Labour Behind the Label
- List of Fairtrade Cotton Schoolwear Suppliers
- National Geographic – sustainable farming
- Responsible Sourcing Network
- SFTF’s Fairtrade Cotton Schoolwear Campaign
- Soil Association 1
- Soil Association 2
- Fairtrade Foundation: 36 major brands pledge to achieve sustainable cotton by 2025
- Fashion Revolution: The role of cotton in social and economic development
Further Educational Resources