Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on May 8, 2008
When you think of socially responsible retailers, Walmart probably isn’t the first name that springs to mind. And rightly so. The world’s largest corporation has come under fire from grassroots organizations, environmental groups, labor unions, women’s rights campaigners (and just about everyone except shoppers in middle America) over its sometimes questionable policies and business practices.
But like a sinner at the pearly gates, Walmart is looking to redeem itself by going green. From organic cotton baby wraps, earth-friendly bedding and towels, energy efficient appliances and natural foods to recycled polyester tees and guilt-free garden furniture, it seems the discount monolith is getting serious about sustainability.
Or is this simply a ploy to maintain retail domination?
Let’s talk fashion (always, dahling!). What happens when a giant like Walmart decides to use organic cotton to manufacture its apparel? Is there enough organic cotton out there to go around? Or is this another (albeit green) example of the big guy doing what he can to shut out the little guys?
The answer to the first part is “no”. There isn’t currently enough organic cotton available — which, in order to be certified, “must be grown without chemical fertilizers, defoliants or pesticides for at least three years.” That’s why Walmart is using something called transitional cotton — which is, cotton that’s been newly introduced to the process. Says the chain: “When you buy this transitional cotton tee, you are practicing a healthier, sustainable lifestyle. Support baby organic cotton!”
To answer the second question, will smaller designers be left out as organic and transitional cotton is snatched up by the big players? I certainly hope not. As many of these innovative designers were pioneers of green fashion movement, it would be unfair for one company to have a monopoly on sourcing. Unfortunately, the bigger chains don’t always care about fair when it interferes with their profit margin.
I don’t know what will happen. We’ll have to wait and see.