Environmental Justice Foundation

Steve Trent, executive director of this organisation, insists that the use of child labour in growing cotton is such an abuse that we must all refuse to buy cotton grown in such a manner. There should be a labelling system allowing us to identify such as well.

By purchasing cotton clothing that fails to carry a guarantee of no-child-labour, we are part of the problem, and our demand for cheap clothing is among the strongest forces driving it.

Companies have a responsibility to know how the products that reap profits for them are being made. Consumers, equally, should know where the product they are buying and wearing comes from, so they can make more informed choices. We need to consider that if a product cost pennies, someone down the line is paying for it – through forced or child labour, pesticide poisoning or other physical abuse.

Companies can no longer shirk responsibility, or hide behind excuses like the "opacity" of the supply chain. It is entirely possible to track the origin of cotton. If actors in the supply chain do not know about the abuses at the earliest stages of the production of the goods they profit from, it is because they don\’t want to find out.

As consumers, our purchasing power can be worth more than our voting. Labels identifying where our clothing was made aren\’t enough: manufacturers and retailers need to develop a labelling system that identifies the source of the crop – given that cotton, from seed to shirt, passes through many hands – and guarantees the absence of child labour (or other abuses) from all stages of the supply chain.

Stirring stuff and I\’m sure it will turn the heads of the ill informed. I do find it remarkable that someone would write about the global cotton industry without mentioning the greatest imbalance in it, the entirely insane (and, according to the WTO, illegal) American subsidies. But that aside, he seemsnot to have grasped the most basic point about trade and child labour.  I give you the rather left wing Paul Krugman to explain it:

Even when political action doesn\’t backfire, when the movement gets what it wants, the effects are often startlingly malign. For example, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets � and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

Third-world countries desperately need their export industries � they cannot retreat to an imaginary rural Arcadia. They can\’t have those export industries unless they are allowed to sell goods produced under conditions that Westerners find appalling, by workers who receive very low wages. And that\’s a fact the anti- globalization activists refuse to accept.

Well done Mr. Trent. You\’re campaigning to make the poor even poorer. We\’re proud of you. Really.


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