Over two-thirds of the world’s cotton is grown in developing countries and the former Soviet Union. Valued at over $30 billion every year, global cotton production should be improving lives. But this ‘white gold’ too often brings misery. Although some progress is being made, the unsustainable, inequitable and abusive conditions under which much of the world’s cotton is produced, continues.

Child Labour and Cotton

In Uzbekistan – the world’s 3rd largest cotton exporter – the government orders
hundreds of thousands of children – some as young as seven – to harvest the annual cotton crop. Hard work for little or no pay, cotton benefits not the rural poor , but the ruling dictatorship, which derives millions from the export of cotton.
In Andhra Pradesh, India, over 100,000 children have been documented working for 13 hours a day for just US50 cents. In West Africa, children are trafficked to work in cotton fields.
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Pesticides and Cotton

Cotton grows on 2.4% of the world’s arable land, yet it is responsible for the release of over US$2 billion of chemical pesticides each year. Nearly half of these are considered toxic enough to be classified as 'hazardous' by the World Health Organisation.

Pesticides are hazardous by design – these are chemicals manufactured with the aim of killing, repelling or inhibiting the growth of living organisms.

An estimated 1 million to 5 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year, resulting in 20,000 reported deaths among agricultural workers and at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation.

Aldicarb, a powerful nerve agent, is one of the most toxic pesticides applied to cotton, yet it is also the 2nd most used pesticide in global cotton production. A single teaspoonful of aldicarb on the skin would be sufficient to kill an adult.
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Water and Cotton

Cotton is the world’s thirstiest crop – six pints of water are needed to produce one cotton bud.

In Central Asia the demand for water to irrigate cotton fields has contributed to the draining of the Aral Sea, a crisis so acute that the United Nations described it as one of the “most staggering disasters of the 20th century”.
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Subsidies and Cotton

Up to 99% of the world’s cotton farmers live and work in the developing world where
cotton is a smallholder crop grown by the rural poor. Cotton accounts for around 40% of West Africa’s exports, yet subsidies to northern cotton farmers have led to a fall in world prices and economic problems in the south.