White Gold: the true cost of cotton

White Gold: the true cost of cotton. At The International Slavery Museum
16 September 2011 to 2 September 2012. Free entry

Being vegan I don’t wear any animal products – fur, leather, wool, silk etc. and therefore rely heavily on cotton. Now reading the details of this exhibition it seems that I need to research the source of all my cotton products more carefully. Why are humans so cruel even to their own kind?

This new exhibition at the International Slavery Museum draws attention to forced labour and human rights abuses in the cotton industry.

The exhibition, run in partnership with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), tells how Uzbekistan, one of the largest cotton exporters in the world, forcibly conscripts hundreds of thousands of its citizens, including young children, to work in its billion dollar cotton industry. The Uzbek government is the main beneficiary of this forced labour, demanding high production quotas and retaining rigid control over the exports.

It includes eight photographs of cotton workers in Uzbekistan, explores how the cotton supply chain works and how we as consumers are part of this chain and how we can make a difference.

Angela Robinson, Curator of Transatlantic Slavery, said: “Over two thirds of the world’s cotton is grown in developing countries and the former Soviet Union. Global cotton production should actually be improving lives but this “white gold” often brings misery.
“Each year in Uzbekistan many rural schools are closed and children as young as seven are sent to help pick the annual cotton harvest. They endure hard and hazardous working conditions and often face verbal and physical abuse. We join EJF in calling for retailers to only stock ‘clean cotton’.

“We also hope visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to act responsibly as consumers and ask them to sign a petition in the gallery to end forced labour in Uzbekistan.”

Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF said: “EJF is calling on the UK Government and the European Union to follow the actions of the private sector – and in particular major European and US retailers to – apply forceful diplomatic and trade pressure to ensure that cotton production in Uzbekistan is no longer characterized by the use of state-sponsored forced child and adult labour and devastating impacts, to benefit a small, corrupt, ruling elite.”

EJF is committed to eradicating child labour and the deadliest pesticides from cotton production and promoting organic alternatives. EJF is working:

  • to raise public awareness to press retailers to only sell “clean cotton”
  • for an EU regulation on forced child labour
  • for cotton products to show the country of origin of the cotton on the label

More details of the exhibition at: www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/whitegold

Image above: Children in Uzbekistan often pick cotton with bare hands, with sometimes nothing more than slippers or sandals on their feet. © Environmental Justice Foundation