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Textiles are the future of Fairtrade

Wednesday 12-10-2016 - 16:29

Bangor SU president Conor Savage is in India this week, meeting the people and communities who benefit from NUS' Fairtrade clothing company Epona.

Today was a travel day for us, making the long 1,300 mile journey from the North of India to the South, following the cotton route.

The Fairtrade cotton we saw in the fields at Rapar will be harvested in about ten days’ time. The Rapar and Dhrangadhra Farmers Producer Company (RDFC), who grow Fairtrade organic cotton for Epona, have managed to buy their own vehicle, which means they are no longer reliant on having to sell to middlemen for a lower price. Instead, they weigh the cotton at each farm and amalgamate it into one large consignment, which they compact and send off for ginning.

Ginning is the process by which the cotton seed heads are dried and cleaned of burs, dirt, stems, leaf material and seeds. The ginned fibre, now called lint, is then compacted again into half-tonne bales, which look like giant loaves of bread. These bales are now ready for sending to clothing factories.

The clothing factories that Epona uses in India are in Coimbatore, in the South. Coimbatore is known as the Manchester of India because of its long association with the cotton industry. The lint bales are sent to Coimbatore by truck, a 1,300 mile journey through the heart of India.

Over the next two days, we will be spending time in the factories that make our clothing. Before we start, we today had a meeting with Fairtrade to learn more about their exciting new Textile Standard. The Textile Standard seeks to tackle the longstanding issue that has vexed Fairtrade since it was established. Fairtrade works brilliantly well for a banana, where it really is just the grower. But for clothing, it is the grower, the ginner, the spinner, the knitter, the dyer, the cut make and trimer, and the embroiderer. Although Fairtrade clothing wears the Fairtrade badge, it really only proves a guarantee that the cotton grower has been treated fairly.

For this reason, for a number of years, NUS has worked with the Workers’ Rights Consortium and Fair Wear Foundation. These organisations work with us to check up on the standards for workers in our clothing supply chain, topped up by at least two visits a year by Epona’s own staff.

The Textile Standard is so new that it has yet to be achieved by any supplier in India, and tomorrow we will be asking Armstrong, our supplier, if they will work with us to meet the standard. If so, Epona will be the first company to offer the Textile Standard in the UK.

Thanks for your support for Epona, and for choosing Fairtrade – its pence extra to us, but a world of difference to the growers and their communities.

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