Bianca Sellnow • 26.02.2018

Why organic cotton is the better choice

We wear it on our skin, dry ourselves with it and wipe the floor with it. Cotton is one of the most important fibres in our everyday lives. However, so far very few consumers pay attention to how and where it is produced. But the word “organic” before cotton can make a big difference.

Only one percent of worldwide production of cotton is currently of organic quality. The demand for the natural fibre is enormous, but its cultivation seriously pollutes the environment and many workers. In addition, most cotton comes from areas that are far away, such as India, Africa or China. The statutory standards for environmental protection and working conditions are generally much worse there than in European countries.

However, there is also organic cotton that is much more beneficial to humans and the environment. With many products consumers therefore have a choice. There are five reasons why it’s worth using the ecological version:

Firstly: Almost everyone uses cotton on a daily basis: Whether it’s T-shirts, bed linen or cleaning cloths – cotton is contained in all types of products. Precisely because of its widespread use, it’s worthwhile converting to organic cotton. By doing this, customers can give traders and producers important impulses through their consumer behaviour.

Secondly: Organically produced cotton saves an enormous amount of pesticides. This is because the plant is particularly prone to diseases and is therefore treated with pesticides when cultivated conventionally, which harm the environment and humans equally.

Thirdly: Ecological cotton doesn’t use genetic engineering. Most of conventional cotton is genetically modified. This is supposed to make it more resistant and less prone to disease. However, plants treated genetically can spread without any controls under some circumstances and harm the local environment considerably.

The fourth reason to buy organically grown cotton is that this can save lives: Pesticides harm not only the soil, but also cost people their lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 20,000 people die each year as a result of the poisons from growing cotton.

Fifthly: Organic cultivation therefore promotes a healthy environment. Workers collect vermin or deter them with alternatives, instead of poisoning them. Organic cotton is also usually grown in a crop rotation and not in harmful monocultures, which deplete the soil and lead to the use of fertilises.

Why despite the many advantages are there not more products made of organic cotton? We asked this and other questions to Patrick Hohmann, the founder and managing director of the company Remei AG, the most important trailblazer for organic cotton in Switzerland:

 

Bianca Sellnow: Mr Hohmann, you are regarded as a pioneer of organic cotton. Why was it important to you to change the cultivation methods?

Patrick Hohmann: When we went to India at the time, we spoke to the farmers. We discovered that they had to take out high loans to finance the pesticides used in conventional cultivation. I then asked myself whether there wasn’t a different method. By growing organic cotton, although the farmers don’t earn more, they owe considerably less.

 

B S: How much more does the organic part of the cotton cost consumers?

P H: That depends on how you do the organic bit. Anyone who really produces an organic quality of cotton, is always more expensive. The way we do it, the raw materials cost about  20 percent more than with conventional cultivation.

 

B S: Can customers rely on the fact the product always contains organic cotton if it’s labelled as such?

P H: That’s very difficult to answer. It’s a long way from the plant to the finished product. It takes a lot of time and work to monitor every stage. That’s why it’s the responsibility of every individual company, which sells a product as “organic”. With us alone it’s about 90 employees, who advise and support the farmers in their cultivation.

 

B S: Your success with Remei AG shows that you can still make a profit with organic cotton despite it being more expensive. Why don’t more textile companies follow this path?

P H: Because profit moves more into the background. With organic cotton, you work to produce a product and not to become rich.

Further Information:

The photos were taken in a certified organic cotton production facility in Madhya Pradesh, a city in northwestern India.

Photography: Julia Kop