We shouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to this – India is an amazing nation bursting with many good, hardworking people whose livelihoods depend on its organic cotton industry – but something has to be done.
Cotton is a huge industry in India – both organic and genetically modified cotton. The latter has been in the headlines recently regarding its link to farmer suicide rates and unfortunately, its organic cotton industry is now under the spotlight too for a different reason.
A few months back I expressed my surprise as to how cheap the wholesale prices for organic cotton shopping bags from India were and that it seemed a little suspect. I assumed it had to do with sweatshop labor, which goes against the principles of fair trade, but the problem runs far deeper.
According to a report on Eco-Textiles, a laboratory in Germany has found around 30% of the tested samples of organic cotton from India contained genetically modified (GM) cotton. The presence of genetically modified material is not permitted in certified organic products and most people who spend the extra cash to buy organic cotton with the environment in mind would be horrified to hear this.
The head of the Indian agricultural authority, Apeda, said they were dealing with fraud on “a gigantic scale.”
A lot of this faux organic cotton is not only ending up in shopping bags, but in big brand name clothing products too.
We can’t just blame India – we also need to look to our own role in this. We might be trying to lead green lives but we still put pressure on companies to crank out environmentally friendly products as cheaply and their not-so-earth-friendly counterparts. That type of pressure encourages these sorts of things to happen.
At the opposite end of the scale, eco-chic brands aren’t off the hook either. People pay more for the label and still might be getting a far less eco and human friendly product than they realise as some brands have been caught up in this scandal too.
At the risk of offending some readers, the eco-chic fashion industry is often still about unnecessary consumption (think new season fashions) and the mark-ups can be horrific. Good clothing should never go “out of style”, nor should the label selling it be raking in a huge profit while paying producers of textiles a pittance.
How many of us have looked back at photos of our youth, the fashions we wore and cringed? However, at the time we thought it was all quite normal. The fashion industry is responsible for that change in mindset, the perceived obsolescence.
Anyway, I hope India’s organic cotton industry can sort this out fast as the possible ramifications for the nation are huge – as they are for green businesses locally selling products made from India-grown organic cotton.
India produced 61% of the total amount of organic cotton grown globally in 2008/09 and given the apparent scale of the fraud it is going to be challenging for any retailer selling products made from organic cotton to reassure consumers as to its provenance in the short term. This isn’t just a blow to India, but to the entire green business sector.
A thought just occurred to me – what if all the GM cotton detected wasn’t the result of purposeful fraud? There are so many genetically modified cotton crops in India and it wouldn’t be the first time a GM crop has infected a non-genetically modified crop.