An Organic Cotton Round-Up

October was the month that hosted Wool Week, as I highlighted in this, this and this post. But I’ve been delighted and interested to read about so many initiatives revolving around Organic Cotton, that I thought it was high time for a round-up.

I personally love documentaries, and my attention was sparked by the fact that there are as many as four docus about cotton, seeds and pesticides, around at the moment.

Seeds Of Freedom is about GM seeds (not only cotton) and how they make the farmers dependant on them. A landmark film from The Gaia Foundation and the African Biodiversity Network, narrated by Jeremy Irons: ”The story of seed has become one of loss, control, dependence and debt. It’s been written by those who want to make vast profit from our food system, no matter what the true cost. It’s time to change the story.”  Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system.The film highlights the extent to which the industrial agricultural system, and genetically modified (GM) seeds in particular, has impacted on the enormous agro -biodiversity evolved by farmers and communities around the world, since the beginning of agriculture. Seeds of Freedom seeks to challenge the mantra that large-scale, industrial agriculture is the only means by which we can feed the world, promoted by the pro-GM lobby. In tracking the story of seed it becomes clear how corporate agenda has driven the take over of seed in order to make vast profit and control of the food global system. Through interviews with leading international experts such as Dr Vandana Shiva and  Henk Hobbelink, and through the voices of a number of African farmers, the film highlights how the loss of indigenous seed goes hand in hand with loss of biodiversity and related knowledge; the loss of cultural traditions and practices; the loss of livelihoods; and the loss of food sovereignty.  The pressure is growing to replace the diverse, nutritional, locally adapted and resilient seed crops which have been bred by small-scale farmers for millennia, by monocultures of GM seed.

Thread is a documentary with a simple title and a simple mission: “To educate consumers on how fashion and textile production impact human and environmental health”. It is about the GM seeds, pesticides and water usage related to the cultivation of cotton. Hope it will be released in the UK very soon.

For the release of Dirty White Gold, the director Leah Borromeo needs your help. She is crowdfunding to raise the £18,000 needed for the production and distribution of the documentary. She explains: “We’d like you to come with us on a shopping trip to India. The journey starts with nearly 300,000 Indian farmers who have killed themselves to escape debt. At one point, up to 26 per day. They are the price we pay for cheap cotton – trapped in a cycle of debt, brought about as a result of the industrialisation of their livelihoods. Some kill themselves by drinking the pesticides with which they farm. At the heart of the film will be the human stories of the people who work the fields to form the threads of our moral fibre. We will ask “when you bag a bargain, who pays for it?” More in the trailer:

The English title Behind The Label betrays the Italian origins of the fourth documentary, directed by Cecilia Mastrantonio and Sebastiano Tecchio. “Behind the label is a journey through India, in search of the hidden world that lies between the folds of cotton – the most used textile fibre in the world. But it also presents a globalization process from the perspective of those who have no access to information or privileges of any kind. India is a country with strong economic growth, where agriculture is still the main activity for 70% of the whole population. The second most important sector of employment is the textile industry. India is, therefore, its cotton. But what kind of cotton is it? Since 2002, India has switched from native cotton varieties to genetically modified ones, and today 90% of the whole cotton production comes from seeds grown in a laboratory. What’s the impact of these crops in terms of life quality for those men, women and children who grow them? What are the real interests of global multinationals who rule the world of cotton?”

And the plague of Indian cotton farmers is not just for the screen – it makes for compelling reading too. Hand/Eye magazine recently published A Common Thread by Shaina Shealy: “I held a boll of organic Kala Cotton in the semi-arid region of Kutch, Gujarat during my first day conducting research for Khamir, an Indian NGO that helps rural artisans in Kutch connect to international and national markets via product innovation and design. I put the cracked boll in a plastic baggy and tucked it into the side pocket of my backpack, where I would often find my fingers reaching to touch the fibers. In the following weeks, I saw the matted fibers of Kala Cotton spin the lives of farmers, artists and consumers into a common thread: an interconnectedness of culture, livelihoods and global exchange that I am part of.” (picture also courtesy of S. Shealy)

Author Catherine Lucas thought that the stories of these farmers needed to appeal to a wider public, to really resonate with the everyday consumer on a larger scale. So she chose a different format, so far unexplored in the mix of media that have been covering and exploring the issue: she chose to write an entire novel about this. Natasha Naturally is the story of a simple girl who likes fashion and is creative and thrifty with it, but whose looks catapult her to the status of super-model and a life of luxury. A life lived without asking questions, until a trip to India opens her eyes to what really is behind the cheap and cheerful fashion we find amassed in high-street stores. Although very well researched, the book does not try to place itself among specific literature for researchers or NGOs tackling the problem on the field (if you’ll excuse the pun). What it does is, tell a simple story that most girls will identify with – and in that tackle the issue of information on this subject in an entirely original way, lighthearted but efficient nonetheless, or even more so perhaps, given how many people’s hearts it could warm to this plague, that scientific papers could not.

Finally, I’d like to ask you this question: Have You Cottoned On Yet? Well, this is actually the question at the heart of the latest GOTS and Soil Association campaign, The Organic Cotton Initiative. The first of its kind to promote organic cotton on a global scale, the campaign urges manufacturers and retailers to address the economic and social damage associated with conventional cotton farming and processing. The campaign’s brief is available to download – which is great, so that consumers can have easy access to a huge amount of information, accompanied by graphics that make for an easy read at the same time.

And if you work in the industry and want to really learn about GOTS in depth, don’t miss this week’s event organised by the Ethical Fashion Forum. The yearly SOURCE Expo is being run online this year, however EFF have partnered with GOTS to inform on leading sustainable suppliers of textiles and production, and will do so with a Sustainable Textiles Showcase to take place on Wednesday 31st October, 15:00- 18:00 at Joelson Wilson, 30 Portland Place, London W1. Registration is essential for this event, link here.

So, have I missed something in this long round-up? Would love to hear about other initiatives aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of GM cotton farming or promoting Organic Cotton – please feel free to leave comments on this!

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One Response

  1. There is one publication one cannot do without in this context: “Insider’s Guide to Sustainable Cotton”, by Simon Ferrigno, and published by EcoTextile News. It can be ordered online via the following link:

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