G Living | Fashion turns our lens on British Fashion Designer Katharine Hamnett, and her extensive history of using style to spotlight world issues. She has a flair for building content into fashion, and using her connections to some of the hottest models in the business to promote them. These organic cotton SAVE THE FUTURE tanks have been seen on high profile models such as Lily Cole, Naomi Campbell. With Hamnett’s help issues such as child labor, blood diamonds, and pesticide use in the garment industry have captured public interest and concern.
Katharine’s love of fashion and social change goes back to the 80’s beginning with the CHOOSE LIFE tees she designed for the boy band WHAM! that were seen by teens internationally on MTV. Another favorite was designed for Frankie Goes to Hollywood: FRANKIE SAYS WAR HIDE YOURSELF (image)
Now Hamnett’s most recent campaign targets the cotton trade’s use of child labor. The “Save the Future” limited edition t-shirt designed by Hamnett to raise awareness while promoting green fashion. The campaign only featuring her environmentally-aware jewellery line also aims to educate people of the humanitarian ills that occur all over the world in the clothing industry. From Katharine Hamnett site katharinehamnett.com: The clothing, shoe and textile industry is one of the largest in the world. It is responsible for enormous pollution and environmental destruction. The industry uses more water than any other, apart from agriculture. It discharges massive quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment including huge amounts of dioxins (the world’s number one pathogen), from bleach, lycra, PVC and heavy metals in dyes and leather tanning. It uses huge amounts of energy in the form oil and electricity – used in manufacturing and the production of synthetics – and in shipping and air travel. It is responsible for enormous CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and must be considered a significant contributor to climate change.
Many cotton farmers are living in conditions worse than slavery and in its quest for cheaper and cheaper manufacturing prices it is now condemning people across the world to terrible lives. At the same time it creates unemployment in Western economies, with manufacturing job flight to cheap labour areas in countries with appalling human rights records like China, Burma, Philippines and Mexico.
The fact that China was allowed into the World Trade Organisation beggars belief and is also one of the great missed opportunities of the 20th century to turn a police state into a democracy.
Known as Export Processing Zones (EPZ´s) and employing over 27 million workers, they are industrial areas, where, typically factory owners pay no tax, the minimum wage is suspended and safety is neglected. In many factories peoples health is put in jeopardy on a daily basis: the wages are low, working days are long, living conditions are cramped, and women are particularly vulnerable to violence and sexual harassment…. Labour rights are under such severe assault inside the zones that there is little chance of workers earning enough to adequately feed themselves, let alone stimulate the local economy. The Uzbek regime forces tens of thousands of children to hand pick the cotton harvest. Up to 200,000 children work to harvest the cotton in Ferghana region aloneDue to underinvestment and a shortage of agricultural machinery, 90% of Uzbek cotton is harvested by hand. Much of this work is carried out by children, some of whom miss up to three months schooling each year while picking Uzbek cotton. The exact number and age of children involved is unrecorded, but estimates suggest figures of around 200,000. EJF has obtained footage of children as young as seven working in Uzbek cotton fields.
In the agriculture of natural fibres, wool isn’t great as it is difficult to farm sheep without the use of some pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers have a negative effect on the environment and are all by-products of the petrochemical industry, but where it really hits rock bottom is in conventional cotton farming.
Pesticides cause 20,000 deaths per year from accidental poisonings [World Health Organisation (WHO)], 1 million long-term acute poisonings per year [PAN], 200,000 suicides per year (due to debt for pesticides) [PAN]. PAN estimates the real figures are much higher: upwards of a million deaths and three million long term poisonings…. Conventional cotton agriculture is additionally responsible for colossal greenhouse gas emissions due to chemical fertilisers, desertification and long-term contamination of the water supply.
Despite producing a commodity which bankrolls the country’s regime, and furthers the careers of regional officials, life for the Uzbek cotton farmers is grim. One cotton farmer described his situation as being “like hanging between life and death”, explaining, “The government controls our lives very tightly. If we don’t obey, we’ll end up in trouble. All we want is freedom, and the state is punishing us for wanting freedom”.
In theory it is an excellent cash crop bringing in lots of foreign currency and providing a livelihood for the 10 to 11 million farmers across Africa involved, giving them enough money to feed themselves, school their children, and afford healthcare.
If they don’t have the money the brokers have set up banks that will lend them the money to buy the pesticides, at 10% interest. The loan must be repaid within a year: if they canÂ´t repay the loan because their crop fails due to lack of rain, the banks foreclose and take their tools and bicycles, leaving them to continue farming. They leave their land for the cities, sending a little money home, and on their occasional returns to their villages often bringing HIV with them as well.
Developing world farmers are given virtually no information on the dangers of the pesticides – often banned in Europe and the US – which they are sold, including the need to wear protective clothing…. For example, in four West African countries the pesticides being used were recently changed from a parathyroid to an organochlorine (endosulfan) because of the problems with pest resistance, without any warnings to the farmers of the increased toxicity of the new chemicals. Nearly 100 people are known to have died in just one region in the last two seasons as a result of this, with over 220 serious poisonings. The deaths are continuing, including the case of a farmer who clearly knew that the chemicals he was using to spray his crops were deadly. One day on his return from work knowing his clothes were contaminated from poison but with no other facilities for safe storage away from his family, he put his clothes on the roof of his house.
Unless developing world farmers can farm cotton organically they can’t make a living from it and will be forced to abandon cotton farming altogether.
If farmers grow cotton organically they increase their revenue 50% because of a 40% drop in the cost of inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), and a 20% premium for organic cotton. At the height of the growing season villagers are practically starving because they are forced to turn their traditional food farming lands over to cotton by their colonial masters, and are ignorant of many of the food crops that they could grow…. Any food grown / rotated with organic cotton will also be pesticide free, providing the local community with high quality nutrition. The fashion industry as a whole is too lazy, too ignorant and too disinterested in fair trade and the environmental issues surrounding its sourcing of raw materials and manufacturing. It makes too much money from the low cost of outsourced cheap labour to be interested in making a change. People say that organic cotton will be too expensive, but the truth is that the value to the farmer of the cotton in a t-shirt is 4-5% of the retail value, so if he gets 20% more it puts 1% on the price of a t-shirt. This is hardly a prohibitive in cost, and it can make the difference between survival and the extinction of eleven million farmers in Africa and a further 90 million farmers in the rest of the developing world. It may be a lot easier to care about people you love than have concern for people of a different culture who live 3,000 miles away, but it needs to be even more popular and firmly entrenched in the mainstream, as the issues it deals with, affect our global environment and economies, the health of 100 million farmers, our rivers, eco systems, seas, climate change, and the lives of a sixth of the world´s population. By insisting on organic cotton and fair pay for garment workers and by paying 1% more for a t-shirt, you can change the world and make it a better and safer place. Resources To Read Further