Will Organic Cotton Save the Developing World?

NADS blogman, checking in.

Here’s an interesting thought: can the production of organic cotton solve–or at least mitigate–many of the key social, economic, and environmental issues facing the developing world?

Let’s take a look at the evidence and see if we can come up with a theory.

First off, let’s dig into the conditions of the developing world, using Bangladesh as an example. On April 24, 2013, over 1,000 lives were lost when Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building collapsed. Rana Plaza was an eight-story commercial and industrial complex that housed several shops, a bank, and garment factories. Although large structural cracks were discovered in the building the day before (April 23) the garment factory workers were ordered to return to work the next day to keep up with commercial manufacturing demands. This tragedy highlights the dangerous conditions faced by garment industry workers in the developing world.

Unfortunately, conditions such as those in Bangladesh are all too common in the manufacturing sectors of the developing world, especially in Asian countries (where most textile manufacturing takes place.) While the fashion industry does create jobs within these countries, European and North American brands possess almost unilateral authority to dictate manufacturing conditions in factories, in effort to cut prices and turn profits to compete in the market. The victims of this are the factory workers themselves, who have to endure long hours and squalid unsafe working conditions, all for minimal pay. So although the textile industry is creating jobs, the pay doesn’t seem to be quite worth the risk.

That’s the status of textile workers in the developing world (i.e. not that great). Let’s move on to a separate train of thought: the effect that cotton production–both organic and inorganic–has on the environment in these countries.

As you know by now, this topic is kind of our bread and butter (read this, this, and this). To summarize: inorganic cotton production harms the soil, water, animals, and air of developing countries through its use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful chemicals. Organic cotton production (really organic agriculture as a whole) on the other hand, eliminates these issues, and therefore, leads to a more secure and eco-friendly system. This benefits farmers, consumers, and really all living things in general. In turn, it can inspire inorganic cotton farmers to look to organic means in the future by setting the bar so high.

To summarize, the capitalistic demands of the Western fashion industry result in poor and unsafe worker conditions in the developing world, negatively affecting everyone involved on the back end. But with every problem comes the chance for solutions. The continuous gradual transition of farms from inorganic to organic farming processes within these developing countries positively impacts the environment and increases the quality of life within these nations.

Now, let’s put on our socio-philosophical caps.

The benefits of going organic–for both the manufacturing supply chain and the individual consumer–are becoming increasingly well-known. As awareness of the health benefits of organic clothing grows among individual consumers, their willingness to purchase organic cotton clothing increases. Moreover, with rising consumer wealth, especially in wealthier regions like the West, additional considerations such as environmental concerns and the well-being of workers involved in production start to influence their purchasing behavior. As a result, the fashion industry will inevitably need to adapt to meet the growing demands of an increasingly conscious consumer base that seeks organic cotton for its health advantages and positive global impact.

Consumer choice holds significant importance, as highlighted in this article. It can profoundly impact the trajectory of the organic cotton industry. The industry's growth largely depends on whether or not consumers continue to support it. Fortunately, there is a rising environmentally-conscious consumer-base in the Western world that is willing to pay a premium for organic cotton when its authenticity is assured.

Recognizing the factors that influence individual buying behavior, such as consumer wealth, the variety of aesthetic options available in organic clothing, and the credibility of companies, presents an opportunity to encourage more sustainable consumer choices. Companies can leverage these factors to incentivize their consumer-base to make eco-friendly and humanitarian purchases, thereby promoting a more sustainable and ethical direction in the industry.

So, our answer to whether organic cotton production can effectively address social, economic, and environmental issues in developing countries is a definite YES! However, the ultimate determining factor lies in the consumer and his/her purchasing decisions. The GOTS label ensures the authenticity of organic cotton, resolving the authenticity concern. Now, the key lies in persuading more companies to embrace this standard and intensify their marketing efforts to emphasize the global advantages of organic cotton in terms of health, well-being, and the environment—similar to our approach!

That’s a wrap!

NADS Blogman signing off.