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FILM: India: 100% Cotton
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30 mins, 2007
Why are Indian farmers killing themselves to give us the T-shirts we buy on the high street? This film investigates the "white gold" business - growing cotton.
Farmers in southern India switch to growing cotton because it brings in more money than food crops. Anand is one of the farmers who switched over and hopes to make a lot of money, fast.
But growing cotton means using dangerous pesticides. After using them, Anand is dazed. His tongue is numb and thick in his mouth, and he feels sick. The poison also lands on the cornfields and so gets into the food chain. At the local hospital people are dying. They have all poisoned themselves.
Highly dangerous pesticides like the cancer-inducing Lindane are sold over the counter in the area. In Europe, these pesticides have been banned for years because of their deadly effect on humans. But in India business is booming.
EU-banned pesticides are produced in the industrial area of Vapi in India. The factories let the poisonous waste water flow into the communal sewage plant. Entire regions have been contaminated.
The cotton farmers are driven to buy new chemicals to deal with the pests. The newer they are, the more expensive they are. The farmers get into huge debt. Last year alone, 700 farmers committed suicide. They drank the poison that couldn't kill the pests.
When the cotton has finally been harvested, Anand drives, full of hope, to the cotton market. But cotton as a raw material is worth less and less. Anand pockets only 20 euros - the result of six months of hard work in the fields.
From the cotton market the cotton is transported to the city of Tirupur for textile production. It's all still full of pesticide. But no one checks here to see if the cotton is contaminated. The workers draw the poison, along with the cotton particles, into their lungs.
To produce white and coloured T-Shirts, more chemicals have to be used. In small factories, the cotton is bleached. Because of pressure from consumers in Europe, quickly evaporating chemicals have to be used in the bleaching process - with bad effects on the workers. For European textile traders, it's important that only few traces of the strong bleach remain in the T-Shirt. The poison should stay in India.
The result of the bleaching and dying process is highly contaminated waste water. The waste processing plants can't filter out the extreme quantities of poison. Even the processed water is still highly contaminated - with 3 grams of chlorine per litre. Women dig in the poisonous sludge with bare hands. Nobody knows how to dispose of it properly.
The coming environmental catastrophe in this city of textiles can't be stopped. Barely any water flows in the rivers, and what there is, is contaminated. The textile workers have to queue to get water for their families.
Textiles from Tirupur end up all over the world, including the big high street stores in Europe. They're tested before they're sold - but that doesn't meant they're free of pesticides.
To be sure of having pesticide-free T-shirts the shops would have to buy organic cotton - but this is more expensive. Just 4 per cent of the cotton used to make clothing is grown without pesticides. The pesticide trade, however, is booming.
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