Fairtrade cotton farming 'has lower social and environmental costs'

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The social and environmental "costs" of Fairtrade cotton farming are five times lower than conventional production, a study suggests.

Research by the Fairtrade Foundation measured the environmental and social impacts of cotton growing on rural households in India, one of the biggest producers of cotton.

It showed the social costs of Fairtrade farming methods were 97% lower and environmental costs were 31% lower than conventional production.

Combined, the costs were five times lower than conventional cotton production.

Fairtrade farmers have seen social benefits of more income from the Fairtrade premiums for cotton, fair wages and investment in local schools, and lower social costs associated with practices such as child labour.

Cotton grown by Fairtrade farmers also has a lower environmental footprint in terms of water use and pollution, soil pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairtrade cotton's cost in terms of land use was a little high, as the yield from organic cotton per acre is lower than conventional production, the report said.

The Fairtrade Foundation hopes its valuation tool will help fashion brands make their businesses more resilient and be more accountable for the environmental and social impacts of the multibillion-pound clothing and textile industry.

Subindu Garkhel, cotton manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "Cotton is an integral part of our lives, from the sheets on our beds to the identity we project through the clothes we wear.

"Not only that, but cotton also provides livelihoods for millions across the globe.

"But there is a strong cost for people and planet with cultivating the cotton that goes into our clothes, and our study shows that is markedly higher for conventional cotton farming.

"This research illustrates how Fairtrade empowers farmers to decide their own future, is better for their communities and has a substantially lower footprint than conventional cotton."

The study was released to coincide with the anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, which killed more than 1,100 people and put the spotlight on problems in the world's fashion supply chains.