Ethical Issues – Cotton – Why It Fails The Ethical Consumer Test

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Like me many people committed to supporting the fair trade industry aren’t aware of the ethical issues around cotton production. Issues such as land use, irrigation, exploitation of workers and the use of pesticides. Conventional cotton is literally destroying the environment and affecting the health and well being of millions of workers throught the world. With fantastic alternatives like bamboo and hemp now readily available its time for all us ethical consumers to vote with our wallets.

Cotton is a massive industry. Cotton crops cover over 5% of the world’s cultivated land and account for 16% of the pesticides used globally. 16% on one crop!!! How bad is that! What’s more, as virtually all cotton is grown in developing countries, there is very little control over the choice and quality of pesticides or the way they’re used. These highly toxic chemicals (cyanide and organophosphates) are responsible for poisoning the soil and the people who work it. World-wide it is estimated that over 3 million poisoning cases each year are caused by the use of pesticides on crops. Furthermore these chemicals don’t simply rinse out on their first trip through your washing machine. Even after several cycles you can still be absorbing these ghastly chemical through your skin.

Aside from being poisoned by the pesticides cotton workers are exploited at every level.

“The economics of Central Asian cotton are simple and exploitative. Millions of the rural poor work for little or no reward growing and harvesting the crop. The considerable profits go either to the state or small elites with powerful political ties. Forced and child labour and other abuses are common.”

The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia’s Destructive Monoculture- Asia Report N°93

Strangely, crop production, is an area that is often missed in reports on fair/ethical trade. The images of children sweating it out for 16 hours a day sewing clothes for Gap is a familiar one (The Observer October 28th 2007). But can you remember an article about the appalling working conditions of adults and children involved in growing cotton? Perhaps its easier to link the production of clothes to a specific company (especially if there’s a well-known logo involved) then to make the link between the high street stores and the cotton fields of Asia.

Irrigation is the other big no-no in the cotton production industry. Cotton needs huge amounts of water to grow – 6 litres for one Johnson’s cotton bud! The effects on the environment are simply staggering. The mighty Aral sea, once the 4th largest lake in the world, is now all but dry. The water that would have fed into it was re-channelled for use in cotton production. Instead of a lake there is now simply a bowl of dust. A bowl of dust the size of Germany.

The good news is that there are a growing number of ethically viable alternatives. The most popular being organic cotton, hemp and bamboo. All of these can be readily bought over the internet with some specialist stores opening on the high street.

Organic cotton

The greatest benefit here is that there are no pesticides and fertilizers used so its not poisoning the environment or the people involved in production. Care taken over the preparation of the soil allows it to retain moisture and reduces the need for supplementary irrigation. Adding in a fair trade label also ensures that workers receive a fair reward for their efforts.


There’s no doubt that Bamboo makes a great alternative. Its a soft and very comfortable fabric that allows air to circulate freely. It’s also antibacterial, anti-static and anti-fungal. It grows naturally without any need for fertilizers or pesticides and is 100% sustainable and 100% biodegradable.


An incredibly soft and strong fabric that can retain its shape over many years (think T shirts here!) Like with bamboo it’s a fast growing crop that doesn’t damage the land and has no need for pesticides or fertilizers. Its breathable; keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. Hemp is 100% sustainable and 100% biodegradable.

The realities of every day life can make it seem hard for us to live the sort of ethical life we’d choose. is dedicated to both discussing the live issues of today and providing easy-to-follow solutions.

Please feel free to let me know about any issues you’d like to see discussed or about any resources you think other visitors might be interested in.
Thank you

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Cotton and Hemp

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by gramz

Cotton is a natural fiber producer for manufacturing cloths. Its sweet nectar attracts destructive insect pests a variety like, boll weevil, boll worm, army worm, and the red spider. One of the fungus’s called Witt also destroys the root system of the cotton plant.

To determine the origin of cotton is very difficult one can say that nature bounded humanity to its basic instincts to cover up his body and for that it used different sort of things from leafs to finding the remarkable stuff like cotton. But at this stage of technological advancement scientists say that it is almost 7000 years ago that fiber and boll fragments were discovered and the idea began of producing sort of clothing with it. Estimated that, for about 5000 years it’s been grown in India. China, Egypt, North and South America probably used it for much longer. European settlers grew it as their early business at the Jamestown colony in 1607. Before 1861-1865 Cotton was the most important crop in Southern US states. Slaves use to work all day picking cotton for their masters in the presence of the overseers, who used to be on the horses.

England was one of the South’s largest cotton customers. Considering rightly that the cotton was as good as gold New Orleans was the major l9th-century port for cotton export. Cotton used to play most important role as barter trade between many countries. This plan worked until 1862 when the Union army occupied New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Federal forces raided from Morgan City up to Alexandria. Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River. As Confederate troops retreated, they destroyed as much of the cotton crop as possible, to prevent this “gold” from falling into enemy hands.


It is believed that no historian know the first people to put hemp to good use. But whenever and wherever people discovered Cannabis hemp, they used it for five of its benefits those are, hempen fibers, oil from the seeds, the seeds for food, as a medicine, and for the narcotic properties it possessed.

Cannabis hemp use exists for the past ten thousand years. That makes it the oldest cultivated crop. It was cultivated in China as early as nearly 4000 B.C. in most of the historical documents Hemp is mentioned. It is mentioned in Zend-Avesta, a sacred book as old as 600 B.C. Chinese Emperor Chen-Nung wrote about it 5000 years ago record tells us that Hemp in 1621 was also used for depression cure and in 1764 as for inflammation for skin.

The use of hemp In Africa is also mentioned in its history, it was used to cure dysentery, and fevers, many tribes in Africa even in this advanced era of medicine and technology uses hemp to treat snake bites, women use it to smoke before giving birth to an infant. Around seventeenth century peasants and, farmers would pick flowers from their hemp plants and feed them to their livestock to protect the animals from evil and sickness.

They believed it has a magical power, and practiced this tradition.

Some of the western physicians used hemp as medicine too; W.B. O’Shaughnessy published in 1839 the benefits of cannabis for the treatment of rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, and tetanus. Also reported it to be helpful when mixed with alcohol and taken orally was very effective, pain killer.

It was used by Henry VIII for the purpose of maritime in England it was cultivated on one quarter of an acre for every sixty acres of land under tillage. The British started its cultivation in its Canadian colonies in 1606, in Virginia 1611.and in 1632 New England started its cultivation that was produced by the pilgrims, it was taught to them by Native American people.

It was a very tedious and hard production process of hemp. So it was up to the slaves to cultivate. The domestic cultivation of hemp was effected after the civil war in America. It affected its economy hugely.
But later it was the chain of Hearst newspaper that did the propaganda against it. Through the Hearst newspaper the phrase was coined “Marijuana Madness” relating to Mexican, African American, and jazz musicians, it was said that the use of marijuana caused excessive sex, and violence, and threatened the safety of white women and children. Following this campaign against hemp it was not long before the complete prohibition of hemp was enacted.

Segun Olowookere recently started his own clothing company called Lowooke who speciallise in designing, producing and distributing a range of clothing aimed at the urban and youth market. The apparel that Lowooke sells is produced using organic materials that have been ethically sourced. You can view their range of Urban Clothing London at

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