5 October, 2017

The Fairtrade Cotton Difference

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by Amy Botta & Cormac Sheehan

Something very important is happening in Gujarat, a rural region on India’s west coast. This is where we meet Mamtuben (on the left, with the headscarf) and Anjena (on right, in the fleece).

Anjena’s doing really well in school. She struggled at the beginning, but now she’s top of her class. Currently in Year Five, her family say she’s a different person since starting school. Maybe a bit cheekier, but that’s okay. They have high hopes that she’ll achieve great things, and with more than five years of education under her belt, she’ll have options that no woman in her family ever had before.

Mamtuben’s her sister-in-law. She’s pretty quiet. Like most new brides in India, after she got married she moved in with her husband’s family. Unfortunately, she’d only completed one year of school before she started working in the cotton fields full-time.

The difference between them is that Anjena’s family farm is part of a Fairtrade Certified Cotton Co-operative. Mamtuben’s isn’t.

This is where we see the positive difference that selling cotton as Fairtrade Certified plays in young women’s lives. When the extra money a Fairtrade co-op earns is invested in schools, it helps to break a generational cycle. This is because when a family doesn’t have sufficient money to give their children a good education, usually the boys are the ones who go to school – or sometimes nobody gets to go at all.

This generational cycle happens in a variety of ways; there might be a primary school in the area, but when children get to high school, they frequently have to travel away from home. This means staying in a hostel or boarding facility. If a family can’t afford that, education stops – regardless of how intelligent or committed a student is. Fairtrade is helping to break that cycle by providing opportunities for girls to get an education that they wouldn’t otherwise have.   

A difficult choice

When we visited cotton farmers in Gujarat, we frequently encountered the following story. 


Some families are quite impoverished, and at cotton picking time that means it’s all hands on deck. They don’t want their children to miss school, but they need their help in the fields. Families often see this as a short term solution: “oh well, she’ll miss school for the next few weeks while she’s helping with the harvest, but she can catch up later.”

What often happens is that after a student returns to school, she finds it hard to catch up. Maybe she feels embarrassed, and maybe she was never the best student in the first place. So she decides to drop out. She goes back to the cotton fields…and that’s a life changed. It’s not just her life, either – this continues generation after generation. We know through all sorts of research* that a girl's education has a huge effect on both her and her family’s future.   

*more information below


A change is happening

At Fairtrade we believe that a woman is equal to a man. That a woman’s voice carries equal weight to a man’s. Fairtrade’s values and conditions specifically address this. In some places, people find our insistence on equality harder to accept than in others. But in Gujarat, a change is happening.  

Women are being elected as co-op leaders. This is important: a woman achieving and gaining respect from the community is not to be downplayed. For young women coming up, they see role models. They see opportunities.

When we were in Gujarat, something interesting happened. We sat down with a co-op group and the leaders began sharing their perspective on women’s education. They talked about giving their daughters equal opportunities to their sons. They said, “here’s an employee of Fairtrade. She’s a woman, and she’s come all this way from Australia. Don’t you want your kids, your daughters, to go not just to the next village, but to go all around the world and have these kind of opportunities?”

That made us feel pretty good. We hope you’ll speak to your school, to your favourite clothing manufacturers, to your family. By encouraging them to make the switch to Fairtrade Cotton, you’re helping to ensure that girls like Anjena stay in school – and that no more women like Mamtuben get left behind.

Read more about The Cleanest Uniform

More information about how education affects a girl’s future:

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