A few thoughts

Hi Yarina,

Thanks for reading my article and for your comments. It’s always nice to hear from others who are passionate about these issues.

I think the use of organic cotton has been contentious because it produces a lower yield and the fabric is therefore priced slightly higher. However, I do not think it is significantly more inefficient. It depends on what economic view you are taking. If your view is more short term financial returns, ie. amount of yield and selling price then it can be seen as inefficient, but if you consider other factors, such as not needing to invest in pesticides, less water use through harvesting rain water and better irrigation techniques, as well as the benefit that organic cotton is usually rotated with other vegetable crops which ensures local food security unlike conventional cotton which is a monocrop I would argue that it is much more beneficial.

Furthermore, there are other cost factors in the production of conventional cotton, which if not subsidised by the government (like it is in the US) can spiral out of control for farmers. The price of GM cotton seeds are higher and the need to invest in more and more pesticides over time (as pests become immune) can rack up. Not to mention that using pesticides is pretty dangerous, just touching some of them can kill a worker and they can affect nearby food crops/water supplies. Breathing them in if workers don’t have masks can also have pretty devastating consequences. I am not sure if you have read about the situation of the ‘cotton suicide belt’ in India? (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2014/may/05/india-cotton-suicides-farmer-deaths-gm-seeds). This to me demonstrates that the conventional cotton is an inefficient practice which needs to be heavily subsidised by a government and be guaranteed favourable global pricing through international trade tariff agreements (which is dominated by countries like the US) for it to really work.

The question for me is not whether organic cotton is more efficient than conventional, but how to convince conventional farmers to invest in the necessary changes to go organic. Big corporations such as Monsanto, are doing all they can to prevent that from happening. Additionally, either way, cotton needs a huge amount of water and only grows in arid landscapes — what solutions can we come up with to use even less water? Or recycle rainwater?

Concerning certifications, it is true that all manufacturers along the supply chain need to pay a fee and invest in equipment to get the GOTS organic cotton certification. However, it would not be in the certifier’s interest to accept money from anyone without checking or imposing some sort of standard as it would cause their certification to have no value and no one would trust it. Ultimately they would end up defunct. Of course there is always the chance that a certifier organisation can become greedy and start passing organisations that they shouldn’t but I think they would soon lose trust, as many designers who source GOTS and care about this issue will visit the factories personally and independent auditors also take part to keep everyone in check as much as they can. In short, it’s much better than nothing.

Concerning figures for wages I think this is hugely problematic. You could probably easily find accurate numbers for national average wages of workers, but I don’t think it would be easy to get accurate figures from brands on how much they pay their workers. This information can be easily falsified and in addition, it is not the brand paying the worker but their supplier garment manufacturer so even if the brand is told or thinks that their workers are being paid one thing and working x amount of hours, it doesn’t mean that’s the truth. There are many examples of garment factories not actually paying out the wages that workers are supposed to receive on paper. There are also many examples especially in countries such as Bangladesh, of workers being locked in to the factories in order to finish large orders and not being paid at all for the overtime. In countries such as Bangladesh, workers do not have the same rights that they do in countries in the West and governments aren’t as good at protecting their citizens from these problems.

I completely agree that the need and desire to make money will affect your decisions on trying to do business even if you have intent to work ethically. However, I think the most successful businesses are always the ones who start out with a clear idea and solution to a problem that they are totally obsessed by and passionate about and their project is much more important to them than if it ever becomes super profitable. They are so passionate that they are willing to try it and risk financial bankruptcy than not try it at all. The money then becomes the bonus at the end but it isn’t the starting point. If money was the sole driver, then I’m sure they would have gone into banking or something. Hopefully, those are the people who will really make some good changes to the industry. But yes it is a huge problem and where you can easily start slipping into greenwashing in over to win over potential customers (when brands are driven by the need to make money). How can we improve on that? I think you are right that thinking like an investor and investing into the supply chain is exactly how brands should be thinking.

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