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Fairtrade and Cotton
Fairtrade is an alternative way to trade. It is a system of partnership and cooperation designed to ensure that people who produce goods - many of whom are small-scale farmers and producers in developing countries, are paid a fair and stable price for the goods that we buy from them.
We know that a particular product is fairly traded when it has the FAIRTRADE MARK. This means that the producer of the product has received a minimum price that always covers the cost of production plus an extra premium (money) to invest in local community projects. It also means that people's rights are respected and they have more control over their own lives. They work in safer conditions and most importantly it means no child labour.
If you consider that an average small car weighs about 1 tonne, then that is alot of cotton! Many countries grow cotton to sell around the world. China is the world's biggest producer. Other big cotton producers are India, the United States and Pakistan, but they are not the only ones. Many of the least developed countries in the world rely on cotton for their existence. In Mali, in Africa for example, about 40% (that's over one-third) of rural households depend on cotton for their living. The problem is that as these farmers are smaller producers, they struggle to compete with larger cotton producing countries to get a fair price for their efforts because of the conditions of the trading system (market) where they sell their cotton.
This is where Fairtrade has made a difference to many smaller cotton farming countries. Fairtrade certified cotton now helps around 100,000 farmers and their families. There are 38 producer organisations that are certified to Fairtrade standards to help them. You can see the countries where these organisations are based who now produce Fairtrade certified cotton, at the side.*
A minimum price for the cotton they produce so that they can stay in business
A premium for community projects to improve education and health, to buy tools and provide loans
Help to improve the quality of crops using organic fertilizers rather than harmful chemicals and genetically modified seeds
Better protection by labour conventions (like rules) so that they have decent working conditions.
Fairtrade cotton has been available since 2005 and the UK are its best customers! Many well-known retail companies on our local high street are committing to sell Fairtrade cotton products. The range of products that are now available in Fairtrade cotton is also growing.
Fairtrade goes hand in hand with co-operation. Around the world there are thousands of organised co-operatives where people work together for the benefit of everyone. Co-operatives are a fairer way to run a business. The producer organisations that produce Fairtrade certified cotton work with their local farmers in co-operatives.
Co-operation means working together with other people towards the same goals. When people work together it is possible for everyone to be successful.
The world-wide co-operative movement was established in 1844 during the Industrial Revolution. This was a time of great exploitation and hardship for working people and there was a need for fairness, honesty and support for all. Robert Owen's ideas at New Lanark were thought to be an inspiration to the Rochdale Pioneers who set up the first co-operative society.
Here is an example of a co-operative. An agricultural co-operative is for farmers.
Today, the Co-operative Group still sets out to do business as its founders the Rochdale Pioneers did over 160 years ago: fairly, honestly and democratically. The Co-op isn't just a shop that you might have noticed on your high street. They do much more ...
The Co-operative is a global organisation that actively supports Fairtrade. Supporting Fairtrade continues a long tradition and they were the first British retailer to champion it!
The first cotton bag was launched in 2007 and within a year, the Co-op had bought 2.5 million cotton bags from the producers! The bag was developed by the Co-op and an Indian company called Supreme Creations. They worked together to set up a factory in Pondicherry in India. The Co-op Group helped the local workforce achieve Fairtrade certification for its cotton and then carbon neutrality for the factory! The humble cotton bag is now the Co-op's second fastest selling Fairtrade product! What do you think is the first? Bananas of course!
Today the Co-op not only provides Fairtrade cotton bags but it was the first supermarket to switch its entire cotton wool range to Fairtrade! They also stock Fairtrade cotton socks and cleaning cloths.
In India, up to 400 million people live on less than £1 a day and 900 million live on less than £2 per day. It is a country with great poverty and illiteracy. 1 in 3 people are illiterate. There are still many child workers in India.
However, there is hope. India is working towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. 15 million more children go to school today than they did 3 years ago! That means that 90% of children in India now attend primary school. Not only that, but amazing Fairtrade projects like the Co-operative Cotton Bag Project are making a huge difference to specific communities, in parts of India, like Pondicherry.
Pondicherry or Puducherry is a district within the Union Territory of the same name near Chennai in Southern India. The Co-operative Cotton Bag Project has brought many benefits to the people there.
In the factory, the workforce has grown from 150 to 2000, as the cotton bag company, Supreme Creations have found more customers since the Co-op partnership started. They produce bags for many British shops now. Take a look at their website to find out more about their bags and what it is like to work there: Supreme Creations. You may even own a bag that they have designed and made!
The cotton bag factory in Pondicherry is now one of the largest and most hi-tech in India! It has a state-of-the-art on-site screen printing facility which makes it easy to change designs and produce samples. A second factory was built in 2008. Spinning and weaving of raw cotton takes place here.This is what was done at New Lanark in the past. Not only that, but with the money made from the cotton bags, new sewing facilities have also been purchased. The enterprise is fully Fairtrade from start to finish!
This picture shows no ordinary piece of land ... This is now a new co-funded Co-operative/Supreme School for the Wings of Hope Charity. It is called the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Educare.The school cost alot of money - £500, 000. Half of the cost was funded by the seasonal cotton bag sold at Co-op stores. To celebrate the purchase of the land, a tree was planted. Now around 360 underprivileged children attend the school near Chennai. This community now have have a wonderful place of learning, that is free for children aged 4-16 years of age and all because of a cotton bag and some co-operation!
This project also helps the environment. Not only are cotton bags much more environmentally friendly than plastic bags, in Pondicherry, the Co-op has helped local environmental campaign groups to go greener too. The cotton factory itself is carbon neutral. This means that it doesn't pollute the environment. It uses 100% green energy because it has managed to buy a wind turbine to power the machinery. This knowledge and expertise can be shared amongst other businesses in the community.
The Co-operative Cotton Bag Project is helping many people in the Community of Pondicherry and it has only just begun. Who knows what can be achieved with this continued co-operation! Is there something in your community that you would like to change? How can you work together to make it better?
Robert Owen is thought to be the Father of Co-operation! His ideas for improving the quality of life for working people were an inspiration to others. Followers of his ideas were known as Owenites and many of them set up small co-operatives based on his ideas. One group, originally called the Rochdale Friendly Co-operative Society was established in 1830. They were to go on and become known as the Rochdale Pioneers and they were responsible for developing a movement of co-operatives which is international today. There are now over 700 million members in 80 countries worldwide and co-operatives today are still based on the guiding principles put forward by Robert Owen and his followers 200 years ago!
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