Fast FAQs on Gaiam's Fair Trade Organic Cotton

BY: Sara Fruman and Valerie Gleaton
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We’re always striving to reach the next level of sustainability and social responsibility. That’s why we are committed to offering products that are not only eco-friendly, but that also support our community, both here at home and across the world.

 

One way we’ve done that is through our relationship with an innovative organic cotton mill in India. Owned by Rajat Jaipuria, Rajlakshmi Cotton Mill purchases all of its cotton from organic farmers in India and processes and dyes it sustainably. Not only that, but Rajlakshmi is one of the few producers of fair trade organic cotton, ensuring that both the farmers and the mill workers receive a living wage and work under safe and supportive conditions.

 

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Here are a few FAQs about why we choose to use fair trade, organic cotton in our products:

 

 

Why organic cotton?

 

“Conventional cotton growing is very chemically intensive,” Jaipuria says. Here are some of the problems associated with conventional cotton farming — which relies on chemical pesticides and fertilizers — and the ways in which organic cotton farming can mitigate the problem:

 

For the farmers: Poor cotton farmers in India often invest their entire life savings into each year’s crop. In addition to expensive pesticides and fertilizers, many farmers are pressured to purchase expensive, genetically modified cotton seeds. These seeds require more water than non-GMO seeds and possess a special “terminator technology” that prevents them from creating viable new seeds, meaning farmers must purchase new seeds each year. If a crop fails one year, the farmer has essentially lost all of his money and must take out a high-interest loan to start over. Many farmers get caught in this “debt trap,” resulting in an abnormally high rate of suicide for Indian farmers as their financial situation worsens.

 

For the planet: A staggering 50 percent of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton crops. These chemicals make their way into our groundwater and waterways, poisoning the environment and contaminating drinking water.

 

For the workers: Working directly with these toxic chemicals is dangerous for farmers and mill workers and can lead to health problems such as birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer.

 

For you: Residues from pesticides and fertilizers can remain in fabric after many washes, meaning your non-organic cotton comforter could be a bed of nasty chemicals!

 

Organic cotton eradicates all of these issues! No toxic pesticides or fertilizers are used in our organic cotton products, and the farmers are able to avoid the high costs associated with conventional chemical farming. They are also able to save their seeds to grow new crops the next year.

 

Why fair trade cotton?

 

“Growing organic cotton ensures that you are following environmental regulations, but it doesn’t ensure that it is being ethically grown or that the workers are being paid fairly,” says Jaipuria. This problem prompted him to seek fair trade certification for Rajlakshmi, making it the first fair trade cotton producer in India. Here are just a few of the benefits of Rajlakshmi’s fair trade program:

 

Fair prices for crops: Rajlakshmi buys all of its cotton from organic farmers in India as part of a cooperative buying agreement. Not only are the farmers assured a buyer for their crops at a fair price, but they also own 10% of the mill operation!

 

Improved living conditions: In addition to working directly with the cotton farmers, Rajlakshmi ensures that villages in the farming areas have access to clean drinking water, irrigation, composting, and education.

 

Living wages: Forget minimum wage. Rajlakshmi pays its mill workers a living wage, ensuring its workers have money for housing, health care, and plenty of food for the entire family, as well as funds for education. Men and women and people of different religions and castes all receive equal wages and benefits.

 

Encouraging education: In India, many children grow up working on their families’ farms instead of going to school. “We convince the farmer not to have his children working in the fields,” Jaipuria says. He accomplishes this not only by paying the farmers a fair price and workers a living wage, but also by offering an education subsidy for school and reimbursing farmers and workers for tuition fees for college.

 

Access to health care: All workers and their families have medical insurance and employee and pension benefits.

 

Trade union support: Rather than fight union organizers, Rajlakshmi actively coordinates with two of India’s largest trade unions to address worker concerns and grievances. “We want to share the benefits and work together,” says Jaipuria.

 

Because of the excellent wages and working conditions, the mill boasts a worker turnover rate of less than 1 percent — almost unheard of in other industries! “Our workers feel that they are a part of the company at every level, which results in a very stable work force,” Jaipuria explains.

 

Shop Gaiam's fair trade and organic cotton products.

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