American Canvas hopes all of our manufactures of gorgeous sweatshop free clothing will go further into the human rights violation free realm.
Here is a little info on our ability to be less harmful to the environment with our clothing choices.
The textile industry has tremendous negative impacts on the
environment, health and livelihood of cotton farmers and workers.
Evidence suggests that it may also be detrimental to the health of
Pressure to produce quickly increasing quantities
of cheap textiles has led the industry to adopt some of the most
unethical trade practices on the planet. Sweatshop practices have been
denounced very successfully in the past 10 years, and you are probably
aware of the unacceptable working conditions which have been the norm
in many manufacturing mills in the developing world, such as long
working hours, low wages, and child labour. As a result, your
expectations as a consumer have forced popular brands to look into the
conditions in which their products are manufactured.
On the other hand, the negative environmental and social impact of
fibre production and fibre processing are only starting to be
addressed. Most consumers are still unaware of how severe and
wide-ranging are the problems. Those that do, have contributed to the
growth of the organic movement. And while it is true that cotton can be
produced in an environmentally friendly way (ORGANIC), while
contributing to alleviate poverty in some of the least developed
countries (FAIR TRADE), in practice, this is not what we mostly observe
The major textile certification schemes are Organic, Fair Trade, and other “Eco Labels”.
In order to understand what these standards are designed for, and what
an organic or fair trade cotton T-shirt means, it is important to know
how cotton textile is made.
How are T-shirts Made?
‘The negative impacts of conventional cotton production ‘
Cotton is grown commercially using a large amount of pesticides and
herbicides, toxic chemicals designed, as the name suggests, to kill
pests, insects, weeds, fungus, or any other kind of living things. Most
cotton is also grown on poorly managed soils, which would be almost
sterile without large amounts of synthetic fertilizers. More
insecticides are sprayed on cotton than on any other major crop. Many
problems are associated with this production method. Severe negative
impacts include: loss of biodiversity and damage to ecosystems and
wildlife, depletion of precious natural resources such as water and
soil, and heavy contamination of water bodies. The ecological
devastation of the Aral Sea area in central Asia, one of the most
visible ecological disasters on the planet, almost entirely due to
cotton production, symbolises cotton’s environmental impacts.
Other impacts include poisoning (sometime fatal) of farmers, and
intolerable indebtedness of poor farmers trapped on the “pesticide
treadmill”. In some areas, the cost of chemicals is now reaching 60% of
farmers’ production costs. The use of pesticides on small-scale cotton
farms in developing countries has unacceptable negative impacts on the
health of farmers and their families, and on their environment. On such
farms, the level of training required to avoid hazards when using
pesticides is seldom attainable. The necessary protective equipment is
almost never used because of its lack of availability and its
prohibitive price, and is inappropriate for use in tropical climates.
‘The positive impacts of organic cotton production’
However, cotton can be grown following the strict principles of organic
agriculture. Organic agriculture uses no synthetic chemical pesticides,
no synthetic fertilizers, and no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).
Organic fertilizers (such as manure) and plant-based pest management
products (such as neem or garlic extract) are used. However, organic
agriculture is not only a mere substitution of synthetic inputs with
natural inputs. The major principle is to restore a natural balance
within farms, with healthy and well-structured soils, rich in organic
matter. In such an environment, the pests (any living things which
damage the crop) are not systematically destroyed by poisons, but are
kept under control by their natural predators. Biodiversity (the
diverse range of living species: plants, animals, microorganisms) and
agro-diversity (the diverse range of crops planted by the farmer, as
well as livestock) are integral parts of an organic farm.
The organic cotton fibre that is harvested is similar to most
conventional cotton fibres, except that it is guaranteed non-GM, and is
not contaminated with pesticides. The main difference is that the
ecosystem where it has been produced has not been damaged, and
chemicals have not poisoned the farmer and his or her family.
The cotton produced while converting from conventional farming to
organic farming is called ‘organic in conversion’. This is a necessary
but difficult stage for any organic farmer, as the cotton may cost more
to produce, but cannot be sold at the premium that certified organic
cotton can achieve. Some companies have decided to incorporate this
cotton into their conventional cotton production, as an indication to
consumers of their support for, and understanding of organic issues,
and forward thinking business ethics.
Fully organic cotton
fibre is certified as an organic agricultural product, along with other
crops on the farm, by a private certification body, which guarantees
that the rigorous organic standards have been strictly followed. The
UK-based Soil Association, for example, is one among over 100 such
certification agencies worldwide, which are accredited and audited by
various bodies such as the International Federation of Organic
Agricultural Movement, Control Union Group, which now, at last, are
being brought together under a single GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARD
Therefore, the certification of cotton fibre as an organic agricultural
product is extremely reliable. If the label of your T-shirt claims that
it has been made with organic cotton, you can be confident that the
cotton fibre has really been grown organically. There is no need for a
logo, the word “organic” is sufficient.
However, the word ‘organic’ only refers to a guarantee on the growing stage of the cotton fibre,
and not on the processing or the manufacturing, and there is still a long way from the fibre to a T-shirt.
There are many stages required to process cotton from fibres to
fabrics. The fibres are cleaned, carded (combed), spun into yarn,
coated with starches or chemicals, woven into fabric (or knitted in the
case of a T-shirt), cleaned up from their coating and their natural
wax, bleached, immersed in concentrated caustic soda, dyed or printed,
and chemically treated for easy care and other properties. All these
stages require a large number of chemicals of various toxicity and
hazards. Some of these chemicals threaten the health of workers, while
others cause environmental pollution from the mills’ waste water.
Finally, many of these chemicals are found as residues in the finished
product, and some of them may affect the health of consumers, and are
suspected to cause allergies, eczema, and even cancers.
order to address those processing and manufacturing stages, a handful
of organisations, mostly organic certification agencies, have developed
their own private voluntary “organic” or “sustainable” standards for
textile, and are certifying finished products according to those
Such organic certification agencies and their textile processing scheme
include the Soil Association and the Control Union International (aka
SKAL International); the new GOTS will encompass those.
so, what we commonly call in Europe an “organic T-shirt” is a T-shirt
made with certified organic cotton fibre, and processed according to
those textile processing standards. The certification agency then
authorises the manufacturer to add its logo (or mark, or symbol) on the
T-shirt’s label or their marketing literature. This is essential in
order to recognize an Organic T-shirt.
While the processing
and manufacturing are not really “organic” in a similar way that
agricultural products are “organic”, what those standards aim to
achieve is to maintain the integrity of the organic nature of the fibre
as much as possible. This is achieved by using as much organic material
as possible, and by adopting alternative chemicals and processing
practices that minimize the impact on the environment, and protect the
health of consumers, while insuring textiles of high quality that are
economically viable. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Mark is one such