So I continue on from where I left off last week looking into who made my River Island skinny jeans.
Our investigations turned at this point from the garment workers and factories, or tier one to tier two, which is where all the materials and components that go into the product come from. As I have still had no response from River Island on where the cotton came from that my jeans are made out of I had to make some educated guesses.
The largest exporter of cotton is the United States but the second largest is India. I presume this is the more likely country of origin for my jeans fabric as their cotton would have been cheaper. India is again well known for using child and forced labour according to the United States Labor Dept.
In 2014 Mani, was working in the cotton fields of Karnataka aged just 14. She spoke about her abusive employer to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund.
“He scolded us with bad words and would strike us on the legs, back and shoulders,” Mani said. But because a farmer had loaned her parents 20,000 rupees (about $326) in exchange for four years of their daughter’s labor [sic], she could do nothing.”
“We have a lot of poverty. That’s why we sent her,” said Mani’s mother, Sundamma. “I don’t want her to work. After the fields, she has red eyes, her hands are sore, and sometimes she vomits and gets dizzy from [the] sun. I do want my daughter in school. She’s happy there.”
In every stage of the cotton process child workers are reported, from seeding, picking and onwards in all major cotton growing countries; China, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Turkey. They are at high risk of developing Byssinosis or brown lung disease from the cotton dust and are exposed to high levels of toxic pesticides with no protection, as well as being vulnerable to sexual abuse and even fatalities.
The BBC spoke to Mr. Katiyar, a campaigner for labour action, about the child workers who reported that “there have been cases of them (the children) falling asleep through exhaustion and suffocating in the piles of raw cotton.”
Another child worker in the cotton fields of Gujurat talked to the Environmental Justice Foundation
‘The owner used to beat us if a single plant got missed. He used to beat us with pipes. We would get up at 4 in the morning and work for 12 hours a day…The partner of my farm owner used to switch off the lights at night and forcibly carry the girls sleeping on the floor, on to his cot.’
The cotton growers of India are also victims themselves . The Daily Mail reported how farmers were encouraged to buy expensive genetically modified cotton seeds that promised bumper harvests and more pest resistance. They would then become severely indebted after frequent crop failures and subsequently hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide
‘We are ruined now,’ said [Suresh Bhalasa’s] 38-year-old wife. ‘We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.’
These stories are very hard to hear and of course I have to add the caveat that I don’t know for certain that my jeans and the cotton they are made from were made by the hands of children or grown by impoverished and indebted farmers. I don’t know because River Island can’t or won’t tell me but there is a possibility and that makes me very sad. I do hope that by doing these investigations for the Who Made My Clothes course that I have encouraged some of you to ask more questions about where your clothes comes from too.
Demanding transparency from our fashion brands is an important way to shed light on the lives of the workers and bring about positive change. I hope reading these stories hasn’t put you off following my blog, I don’t want to brow beat anyone into submission simply just tell you a little more about your clothes.
#WhoMadeMyClothes #FashionRevolution #RiverIsland #IndianCottonWorkers