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French Documentary Team Exposes the Dirty Truth About Overseas Cotton

A new documentary from the French television program Cash Investigates has put the spotlight on unethical cotton production practices around the globe. In a November episode titled “Cotton: The Other Side of Our T-Shirts,” investigative journalists from the award-winning news show went to extraordinary lengths – posing as both tourists and prospective cotton buyers, interviewing workers and c-suite executives, and taking a stand at shareholder’s meetings – to expose shocking injustices and inconsistencies in the cotton supply chains operating in Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, and India.

Determined to get to the bottom of the complex and often-opaque sourcing and labeling of fast fashion apparel, the team discovered forced labor, child labor, and dubious environmental practices hidden behind the promises of green and ethical cotton clothing. Posing as buyers for a fake line of cotton basics, the Cash team gained unprecedented access to cotton producers and suppliers. They learned that because cotton garments often cross five or six international borders on their way to becoming a finished garment, it is nearly impossible to definitively identify all sources. One Belgian producer confirmed that his company allows their clients to select the country of origin printed on garments, despite all items being produced in an Uzbekistani textile factory.


Cotton produced and picked in Uzbekistan has long been a known issue. The Cash investigation proves that despite the Uzbekistani government’s insistence that it has reformed the industry, significant human rights and labor violations continue. The team witnessed occupational health and safety hazards on their tours of Uzbek factories and they heard stories of children as young as 11 working in the fields and civil servants being forced to work grueling days to meet outlandish quotas. Cash interviewed a worker at a producer that supplies many of the world’s most recognizable fast-fashion brands and learned that workers live in prison-like conditions in company barracks, and are regularly subjected to physical and psychological abuse.


Believing they were providing tours to potential clients, producers casually remarked on the ease with which they, often against their stated policies, obtained and processed Uzbek cotton. When the Cash team confronted executives of a multinational company they discovered to be using Uzbek cotton and Bangladeshi factories that they observed violating labor laws, the executives were dismissive, citing their ongoing factory auditing.


The Cash team’s conversation with an executive from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a non-profit organization organized to promote better standards in cotton farming across 24 countries, was similarly concerning. Lena Staafgard, the COO of BCI, confirmed that the BCI labeling can be applied to the garments of companies that have simply pledged to use BCI cotton at some point, for some portion of their products. This means that a garment with a BCI label may, in fact, be made with “conventional” cotton – which may have been grown in Uzbekistan or other countries with unethical labor practices or where the use of harmful pesticides is common.


The Cash documentary is an explosive investigation that gives cotton buyers and consumers reason to be wary about the cotton supply chain and the products they purchase. These troubling aspects of the global cotton supply chain are a key reason for PimaCott’s commitment to fully verified sourcing and processing. Our revolutionary cotton tracking process ensures complete supply chain transparency, and ethical standards are of the highest importance to us as we live our mission to offer consumers better choices. As always, we encourage consumers to research the truth behind a label, and whenever possible, choose cotton that has been verified pure.