The Cost of Cotton

A film by Sandrine Rigaud
First broadcast november 28th, 2017 on France 2

It’s the soft, natural fabric associated with high quality and versatility. Used to make everything from jeans and t-shirts to tarpaulins, oil and cattle feed, it powers a 37 billion euros a year industry. But is cotton really as pure as it seems? Claims of forced labour, pollution, and even slavery have stained its wholesome reputation, creating a market for ’ethical, responsible’ cotton.

In this investigation, we follow the production chain to find out how cotton is really made and examine the claims of the ethical cotton labels.

We start in Uzbekistan, where cotton is the main cash crop. A dictatorship whose people are forcibly sent to the fields at harvest every year. In 2012, reports that children as young as 9 were being forced to pick cotton led to a global campaign to stop clothing suppliers buying Uzbek cotton. Has anything changed? Then, onto the spinning mills of Bangladesh, where workers live in prison-like conditions, to the indifference of contractors.