• Charlie Sandles

Secrets That Fashion Doesn’t Want You to Cotton On to


© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri


Why the simple act of buying a T-shirt is no longer that simple.


Fashion isn’t what it used to be; major disasters such as the Rana Plaza incident and the implications of cotton production on the Aral Sea are just two examples of fashion’s dirty secrets and no longer can brands’ unethical practices and bling ignorance slip through the cracks. Ethics is the new kid on the block contributing to everyone’s brand image and it

Buying ethically seems to be a minefield as of late- ethical controversies amongst brands seem to be the norm and as a consumer, we’re left mostly in the dark about brands’ true ethical commitments. But how do you know what is ethically produced? How transparent are brands really when it comes to ethics and sustainability? What do you need to look out for in order to ensure that you are only buying from brands that support and reinforce fair trade?


The newest atrocity to come to light is cotton and how it is farmed, most specifically in the Xinjiang and Uyghur regions of China. Through forced ‘re-education’ and prison camps, reports of over one million local Uyghur and Turkic minority Muslim populations are being forced into these camps to labour in neighbouring cotton fields and apparel production facilities. Producing approximately 84% of the cotton in China, the Xinjiang province is responsible for one in every five bales of cotton globally produced.

Whilst it is extremely hard to exactly trace the cotton used in your garments down to the farm it was harvested from before it was spun into yarn by a spinning mill, many brands have since committed to not trade or use cotton from the Xinjiang region.

The Xinjiang region isn’t the only major contender for its inhumane treatment of workers- Uzbek cotton grown and picked in Uzbekistan has long been questioned and boycotted for its use of forced labour in the cotton trade. The ‘Cotton Pledge’, initiated by As You Sow, pledges brands to demand that suppliers use traceability documents for all cotton and textiles products and engages with the Uzbek government to prevent coerced and unethical labour.

Brands are responsible to ensure that they proactively invest time and resources to investigate the suppliers and production mills they source from and work with in order to prevent funding and supporting the lucrative business of forced labour. ‘Not knowingly using Uzbek cotton and [Xinjiang cotton] and actually ensuring you don’t use Uzbek cotton are two completely different things’- we’re now confronted with the morality of these issues and it is no longer acceptable for brands to turn a blind eye to atrocities such as this.

Xinjiang, Uyghur, Uzbek- these are but a few of the many that are using forced labour as a means to harvest cotton and sustain the lucrative business that is fashion. Change must occur, and it lies predominantly in the hands of the consumer. The sooner we boycott brands who aren’t transparent about their suppliers and by the association are supporting forced labour and other unethical practices, the sooner we don’t have to confront headlines exposing these atrocities. You must ask yourself the question: is the £10 difference in a t-shirt worth the suffering and inhumane practices experienced by the labourers forced to pick and produce the garment?