Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on February 2, 2008
Just in case you thought it was okay to buy non-organic cotton, here’s a wakeup call: the workers sowing, picking, weeding, hoeing, cross-pollinating and carrying the heavy bundles of cotton are often… children. And I’m not talking about kids working their way through college. A report published by the Environmental Justice Foundation estimates that one million children are working 12-hour days earning $2 per day, if anything, to satiate demand for a global industry worth $40 billion.
“China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan and Turkey – six of world’s top seven producers – have been reported to use child labor in cotton fields,” stated a recent press release. These children forgo their education and health to carry out the backbreaking work in extremes of temperature, many suffering physical, verbal and sexual abuse.
To make matters worse, cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. It’s responsible for the release of $2 billion of chemical pesticides each year. And in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, children are responsible for spraying these pesticides without any protection, posing serious health risks. Some of the children interviewed by EJF complained of side effects like fainting and sickness from pesticide exposure.
As consumers, we can do more than think twice about a seemingly harmless cotton t-shirt, we can demand accountability from retailers to ensure the cotton on our backs is produced ethically and sustainably.
Photos by Thomas Grabka