Cotton Failing Millions of Farmers in Asia & Africa

Cotton is one of the world’s most important crops in terms of land use after food grains and soy beans. But millions of small-scale cotton farmers are at the far end of a multi-billion dollar textile supply chain that leaves them trapped in poverty. This Fashion Revolution Day, we must make the textile industry work for the entire supply chain.

23 April 2015

Although millions of small-scale cotton farmers provide the raw material that the global textile industry depends on, a sustainable and profitable livelihood continues to escape them, says a new briefing from the Fairtrade Foundation released for Fashion Revolution Day.

The textile supply chain begins in the cotton fields, which play a major role in the economic and social welfare of developing and newly industrialized countries. Cotton is grown in more than 100 countries on 2.5 percent of the world’s arable land, and is one of the most significant crops in terms of land use after food grains and soya beans. It is an especially important source of employment and income within East and Central Africa, India, Pakistan and Central Asia.

Real cotton prices – taking inflation into account – have fallen by 45 percent, from more than $3.00/kg in the 1960s to $1.73 in 2014. Yet the Fairtrade Foundation’s new briefing shows that the cost of raw cotton makes up 10 percent or less of the retail price of a textile product. A relatively small increase in the price paid to cotton farmers could significantly improve their livelihoods with little impact on the retail price.

“The cotton industry faces a number of very serious challenges in its long-term sustainability – from the intensive used of hazardous chemicals to climate change and low cotton prices. As a result, cotton farmers are struggling to meet basic needs such as food, healthcare, school fees and tools. Even a small fall in cotton prices hits farmers hard,” said Michael Gidney, Chief Executive of the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK.

“We need to change the way we view fashion and reconnect with all the many people who work to bring us our clothes, because too many of them simply cannot make a living. Unless consumers and business are prepared to pay the true cost of our clothes, farmer poverty and tragedies such as Rana Plaza will continue.”

Time to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes

Fashion Revolution Day is a call to action on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy that took the lives of more than 1,100 textile workers and injured more than 2,000 in Bangladesh. This Fashion Revolution Day we are asking everyone to:

  • Take a selfie showing your label and post it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere.
  • Tag the brand and ask #whomademyclothes.
  • Help make our message louder. Nominate 5 friends to do the same.

Tens of thousands of people across the globe did this last year and more are expected to take part in the campaign tomorrow, 24 April. Supporters in 67 countries worldwide are organizing activities to mark the day. Find out more at Like Fashion Revolution on Facebook at and follow @Fash_Rev on Twitter.

Help Fairtrade Chart a New Course in Textiles

This year, Fairtrade International is developing a new Textile Standard to cover the entire supply chain and improve conditions for workers. The standard includes requirements relating to unionization and freedom of association, workers’ health and safety, and environmental regulations. The Fairtrade approach goes beyond certification and monitoring to offer support and training to farmers and textile workers in developing countries.

A draft of the standard is now available for public consultation until 8 May: civil society organizations, producers, traders and experts are called upon to comment and contribute.

To take part in the consultation, click here.

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