Children & Cotton Learning Zone for Social Studies & Citizenship
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Portrait of Robert Owen

The Rochdale Pioneers [Courtesy of Manchester Libraries] 

Fairtrade and Cotton

The Fairtrade Mark from the Fairtrade Foundation.

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.

Fairtrade Certification MarkWe 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.

Fairtrade Mark from the Fairtrade FoundationThis 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. 

*Source: Fairtrade Foundation, COTREP

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.
This is how it operates: CLICK TO ENLARGE
     Farmers buy shares in the organisation to become membersThe co-operative organisation can buy goods needed in bulk and members can buy them at a lower price than if they bought them individually.The members sell their crops to the co-operative
     The co-operative sells its members' goods collectively to get a better price for everyone in the marketplaceSome bigger co-operatives sell their goods abroad. This includes UK shops like the Co-op.Some co-operatives make products to sell too, like milling maize to make flour or making chocolate from cocoa pods.
                       The co-operative can provide support and training to farmers to help them to grow better crops.The co-operative may also give loans to farmers so that they can buy new equipment and improve their farms.

LEARNING ACTIVITYCo-operatives offer poor farmers a way out of poverty because they can work together to get services that they did not have before. Fairtrade co-operatives have been set up around the world to allow cotton to be processed and manufactured in many communities where it is produced to improve peoples' livelihoods and develop trade for the future. A great example of this is the cotton bag story. 



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!

What do you do if you are a grocery retailer and a major supporter of Fairtrade when cotton becomes available under Fairtrade terms?
The Co-operative came up with the fantastic idea of making the UK's very first Fairtrade cotton supermarket shopping bag! This meant that shoppers could be environmentally friendly and help communities around the world at the same time!

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.

LEARNING ACTIVITYHowever, 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.

About 10,000 people in the community now have decent livelihoods as a direct result of the Co-operative cotton bag project. The production of the cotton bag guarantees a better deal for Indian cotton growers as well as the manufacturers in the local area. The raw cotton is bought locally from a company called Agrocel, who represents small-scale organic cotton farmers in India.

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!



The community of Pondicherry is also being helped by the Wings of Hope Children's Charity through the cotton bag sales. for every bag sold a donation is made to the charity. This provides schooling for poor and orphaned children in India and Malawi. £25,000 was raised for the Charity by sales of the bag in its first year and this is growing! That is alot of cotton bags! Visit their website to find out about this project in India and meet some of the young people who can now go to school: Wings of Hope

The perfect plot for a new school!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?


 LEARNING ACTIVITYRobert 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!


With thanks to Supreme Creations; the Wings of Hope; The Co-operative Group and Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Manager for their assistance and permission to share their story. 




Fairtrade & Cotton





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The Co-op cotton bag is launched!














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From this: Planting a tree on the new school plot.

A classroom at the new school - With thanks to Caroline Lowden

The new school is open thanks to cotton bags and cooperation []






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