Citizenship Secondary

Secondary Citizenship – Who picks the cotton?

Every student in a Citizenship class will be wearing some cotton but do they know who picks the cotton from the bushes in the fields of Gujarat or processes it in local factories? It’s unlikely because the high street shops selling the t-shirts and socks don’t know. Most high street retailers now try to ensure that the factories which make their products are monitored because pressure groups watch them with an eagle eye. Reputation is hard to earn and easy to lose so businesses try to protect themselves by keeping a close eye on their suppliers. Perhaps they are not looking far enough – as few know where the raw cotton comes from.

These BBC video clips and articles looks a step further back and shows children, far from home, working in the fields and factories where cotton is picked and processed.

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The children have been sent by their parents to pick and process the cotton. Conditions are appalling. They work long hours, are scratched to bits by the plants and breath in the fibres from the cotton which fill the air in the factory.

The children’s paltry pay is sent back to their parents – although the children have little idea where they are.

The UNICEF document here will help students to work out what’s wrong with these practices.

The BBC’s video clip also shows how things have improved in the manufacture of clothes. Organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign  – – have put pressure on many businesses to help this change take place.

Should ethical sourcing of cotton just be the responsibility of businesses and pressure groups or do consumers have a responsibility too? Do students think about how their clothes are produced? Should they?

There are businesses which will only sell clothes from ethical sources. Rapanui, a company based in the Isle of Wight, is one that takes this approach. It was set up three years ago by Rob and Martin Drake-Knight who are now aged 24 and 25, with savings of just £200. They have since won a long list of awards. Their business takes sustainability very seriously as their website shows.

The cotton used in their clothing lines is all traceable. They know exactly where every fibre comes from and how it has been grown and processed.

You can see the difference that this sort of approach makes from the case study of Khima on the Fairtrade organisation’s website.

Perhaps the high street stores need to go a step further?

Jenny Wales is author of Citizenship Today for GCSE, published by Collins.

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