Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No More Egyptian Cotton For Me!!...con't

Let’s examine what the cotton crop entails. Cotton is actually two crops: the fibre and the seed. Approximately two-thirds of the harvested crop is composed of the seed. The seed is crushed to separate its three products – oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many foods; although, it is used primarily as a cooking oil or salad dressing.

Most of the oil goes to the preparation of snack items such as crackers and digestive biscuits. Lesser quantities go into soaps, pharmaceuticals, cosmetic, textile finishes and other products. The remaining meal and hulls are used as livestock, poultry and fish feed. The rest is used as fertilizer.

The fibre still remains after 7,000 years the most adaptable and widely used fabric used today. Cotton is used in a range of clothing up to and including spacesuits; banknotes, linen, tarpaulins and tents; and remains the single best-selling fibre in the world. Impressive!

China, USA, India, Pakistan, and Brazil are the world leaders in production; but, nothing says prestige and luxury like Egyptian cotton. What makes it so superior is its fibres which are of uniform length making them stronger, finer and possessing of a greater elasticity than any other fibre.

With Egypt's cotton exports worth £150m ($214 m USD); the cotton business should be securing the livelihoods of the farmers. Instead, Egypt is a nation of thousands of cotton farmers trying to survive amid inflation, corruption, dwindling water resources, high fuel prices and a government that ignores their plight. The irrigation systems, which pump waters from the increasingly depleted Nile, are rusting. The cost of seeds and fertilizer has soared. Rich landowners demand ever higher rents from their tenants for the right to work the modest lands. Those lucky enough to own their own land end up with smaller and smaller plots as each generation's inheritance subdivides farms among several sons.

While the Egypt Child Law of 1996 bans the employment of children under 14, and regulates the hours and conditions of those between 15 and 17, it remains largely unenforced. Everyone knows it’s going on; but, no one does anything about it. There are no penalties enforced so there is no motivation for those breaking the law to stop or treat their child workers more humanely. More importantly, it does nothing to address the root causes propelling youngsters into this line of work.

The essential reason is poverty. According to the UN 2005 Egypt Common Country Assessment, almost 17 per cent of Egypt's 77.5m people were living below the poverty line in 2007. The situation is much worse in Upper Egypt, especially in rural areas where the cotton fields lie.

Juliette Williams, spokeswoman for the Environmental Justice Foundation, which has investigated the cotton industry across the world, has this to say, “Egyptian cotton is synonymous with luxury, yet the reality behind its production is endemic child labour – up to 1m children are working in the cotton fields each year. This is a scandal the companies need to address. Yet when we have pressed companies on their supply chains many tend to fudge the issue, and simply say they require their suppliers to meet certain standards within the factories that produce clothing. This misses the point. Companies need to get out of the factories and look to the fields. I think they, like us, would be horrified at what The Observer has found.”

“The whole cotton supply chain, unless you choose reputable organic or fairtrade, is so murky,” she adds. “The irony is that Egyptian cotton is the only cotton that is sold with the country of origin as a selling point, as top-of- the range quality, yet the luxury bedsheets we buy may well be linked to entrenched poverty and rampant child labour.”

Things that we can do:

Contact President Hosni Mubarak
His Excellency, President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
‘Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt
Fax: + 20 2 390 1998, 20 2 260-5417 , 20 2 355-5700, 20 2
795 3192 or 20 2 795 8016

Contact President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tel. 202-456-1111
Fax. 202-456-2461

Visit the Better Cotton Initiative website: ( They have some good info.

Ask your retailer if their cotton supplier is on the SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) Database. They publish suppliers that source their material from ethical sources only.

Create awareness. Talk with those who will listen. Write to your local retailer letting them know you will now only buy cotton from suppliers on the SEDEX list and if they don't stock those suppliers, you will go to someone who does. Write a letter to the editor. Join a peaceful protest.

Next blog: Why erosion and soil destruction may put an end to cotton farming in the near future.

1 comment:

kathi said...

Glad you posted some proactive links and ideas. I'm still a bit torn on this one when I consider how poorly the majority of the world lives. Have you seen the visual on food for different people around the globe? YOu may want to post it here.

This reminds me of being in Peru, watching a mother with a baby in a sling in front, a bushel of corn on her back along with God knows what else and a 2 year old in tow, spinning yarn every step of her way walking miles to a market to make a few pennies. I can still hear her screams from the train as she remembered that she had left her baby at the depot in the woods outside Machu Picchu.