There has rightly been a lot of media attention on the coronavirus crisis’ devastating impact on garment workers as brands have stopped, paused and reneged on orders. However, as TRAID speaks to our project partners around the world, with no money flowing through the textile supply and production chain, other workers such as cotton farmers at the start of the chain are also hard hit and will inevitably be impacted by factory closures and cancelled orders.

Organic cotton ©LeighMcAlea

The price of cotton globally is falling rapidly and our project partners which support farmers to grow cotton organically report that right now, they are between crop seasons, so the worst financial impacts are still to be felt in Autumn 2020. The Fairtrade Foundation reports that global forecasts predict that cotton prices could fall as much as 22%. Certainly, this is going to be difficult for many vulnerable cotton producers worldwide.

When it comes to the organic cotton farming projects we support in Benin, Ethiopia and India with our partners PAN UK, PAN Ethiopia, OBEPAB, Pratibha Syntext and Fairtrade Foundation, there is room for cautious optimism due to project design and partner resilience.

Most significantly, organic cotton farmers in Benin and Ethiopia have supported farmers in crop diversification, food security and alternative income generation which means that they are not only reliant on cotton. In Benin, the team wrote to us and said:

“The current project places strong emphasis on helping women and men to establish diverse and resilient farming systems so that they can protect their food security and livelihood in the face of climatic and market shocks. We are most grateful to TRAID for having the foresight to support such a project and believe that it will have a particularly positive impact in the difficult times ahead.”

Farmer training on managing cotton and food crops without using chemical pesticides

Similarly, in India the organic farmers from the Vashuha Cooperative who take part in the seed sovereignty project have never relied on cotton as their main source of income. Inter-cropping, companion planting and growing food produce have ensured alternative marketplaces and incomes for these farmers.

By funding projects which build farmer’s resilience by not depending on one crop, we hope this will go some way to seeing farmers through this extremely difficult and unpredictable period.

More visibly, garment workers incomes have been decimated as brands have stopped and cancelled orders, for example refusing to pay for fabric bought and clothes produced. In Bangladesh alone, brands have announced the cancellation of £2.5 billion worth of current orders with little certainty about future orders.

Last week, our partner Nagorik Uddyog in Dhaka, Bangladesh reported to us that huge numbers of garment workers are waiting to receive any income and that in the city, there are a lot of fears around hunger and even of famine if lock down continues.

TRAID’s CEO Maria Chenoweth added our voice to this video alongside campaigners Kalpona Akter, Nazma Akter, Shompa, Morjina, Bel Jacobs, Tansy Hoskins, which aims to raise awareness of why garment workers in Bangladesh are in such a dire situation, and that campaigners around the world are calling on fashion’s billionaires to #payup.

In India, our project partner READ has refocussed its work to support interstate migrant garment workers, many of whom have lost their jobs and cannot yet return home. They are completely destitute and READ has been providing packages of essential food to see these garment workers and their families through the crisis.

Sacks of rice to be distributed to garment workers

You can help by making a donation to TRAID’s fundraiser to help provide food for these garment workers. Just £5 will provide enough food for one family for one week. A small good thing. Please donate here if you can.