Hidden Cost Of Our Clothes

by | Oct 22, 2016

I would like to quote a few lines by Mark Twain

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

For India, the word clothes equates to the word cotton, given the climatic conditions and also our agricultural legacy. Cotton is the ‘white gold’ of many of our farmers, even today. That being said, a sneak peak into the world of cotton from a cultivation and distribution lens, is essential for the understanding of the subject. I would like to begin the part 1 of this series with an understanding on cotton cultivation. So here goes:

  • India is currently the second largest producer of cotton in the world after China. The area of land under cotton cultivation in India’s represents about 25% of the global area on which cotton is cultivated, the largest area under cotton cultivation consisting of about 12.2 million hectares. In terms of production in India, Gujrat is the leading cotton producing state. That’s also why we are talking about cotton today.
  • Traditional cotton is susceptible to 162 species of insect pest attacks during different stages of production. Ballworms are the most damaging to the crop and account for roughly 80% of the reasons for crop damage.
  • BT is a short form of Bacillus Thuringiensis. BT Cotton refers to cotton plant that have been genetically modified by the insertion of one or more genes from Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). The spores of BT produce crystal proteins which are toxic to many forms of insects especially Ballworms, leading to its use as an insecticide. It is produced by Monsanto Company.
  • In March, 2002 the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Govt. of India approved the commercial distribution and cultivation of BT Cotton jointly developed by Mahyco and Monsanto. Since then, the BT cotton adoption rate and the number of farmers using BT cotton hybrids in India in 2009, all continued to soar to a record high.
  • BT cotton also reduces the risks of crop failures and therefore substantially increases in the yield of cotton. But, with the increase in production, certain BT cotton related problems have become evident. Before discussing problems, let us know how cotton is grown.
  • BT cotton production process is very unique, interesting to know about but same time very laborious.

There are two type of seeds, one is female and other one is male. Both are planted separately so that at the time of cross-pollination they can be identified easily and also reduces time to collect the male flowers.

At flowering stage of female plant, the petals of female flower shown in Image_01 are torn and a red coloured tag is attached to its bud shown in Image_02. This activity is done during afternoon.


Image_02 Torn Female Flower with Tag

Male plants are collected at the budding stage shown in Image_03. At the time of cross- pollination they are also torn. Every male bud is touched with female tagged bud for getting cotton fruit. People starts collecting males from 3:00 am on-wards and start touching or cross-pollination after sunrise.


Image_03 Male Bud of BT Cotton

This time the tags are removed and female bud is left for fruit development. The early stage of fruit is shown in Image_04. The process is known as artificial pollination.


Image_04 A full grown plant with cotton fruits

The cultivation of BT cotton is different, as artificial cross pollination is required to produce high quality cotton. The duration for artificial pollination starts from Monsoon season, the process stays till Diwali. After this any fruit grows on plant counts for low quality cotton.

After this brief explanation about the cultivation BT cotton, let’s move to derive the hidden cost of our clothes. The process itself explains that a huge number of labour is required for cross-pollination. Now who are the labour for this cultivation?

They are children from villages. In villages, the small landholder’s each family member above 4 years works on farms for this cross-pollination. But in big farms the labour requirement is huge, so huge number of children are sent from Kotra, Jhadol and from other Blocks of Udaipur District of Rajasthan to Gujrat through labour contractors. According to UN protocol, child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of children for the purpose of exploitation.  The nature and scope of trafficking range from agriculture, industrial and domestic labour, to forced early marriages and commercial sexual exploitation.

On household survey done in Jhadol Block, few reasons came across for child trafficking. They are economic issue, unemployment, child is not interested in going to school, lack of awareness, desire of independence, peer pressure. The common reason heard from children is “want of money”. They have to work from 4 am till evening, due to this they are suffering from back pain problem, skin problem, sexual transmitted diseases (STDs), loss of sight, excessive weight loss, malaria, emotional stress, social exclusion and are often victim of snake bites. They are provided with vegetable and food supplies at higher price which are of poor quality. During this time many of them gets addicted to alcohol.

The future of these children is dark, this darkness in their life is hidden cost of our clothes.

There are lot more hidden cost associated with our clothes, after seeing the cross-pollination season at Kotra Block of Udaipur. Clothing is the basic necessity of life, but looking at the cultivation so closely puts me in dilemma.

1. https://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/biotech_crop_profiles/bt_cotton_in_india-a_country_profile/download/Bt_Cotton_in_India-A_Country_Profile.pdf
2. Baseline survey done by Seva Mandir on BT cotton Child Trafficking and Labour

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  1. Anupama Pain

    Cant wait for part 2. This is one of my interest areas – agri value chains. Looking forward!

  2. Lekshmy Harikumar

    hahaha toh picture abhi baaki hai? chalo theeke 🙂


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