Thursday 23 September 2010

The price of cotton

Something as mundane as the price of cotton rarely hits the news, but in the last week or so it has. The warning issued by retailers such as Primark and Next about soaring cotton prices has certainly hit the headlines. Next suggest that the price of cotton clothing will be 8% higher at the start of 2011 - part of this increase accounted for by the planned 2.5% increase in VAT. Since the price of clothing at Next is proportionately more than at Primark while the cotton content is broadly similar we could easily find a rather bigger percentage increase on the shelves of the country's favourite super low cost retailer.

The increase in the price of cotton may lead to your typical teenager buying fewer t-shirts next year. That's a price to be paid. But when it comes down to it not a great price.

How do we measure the price increase? Well 45% over the last year according to Next, but if you go back 15 years there has not been one! 15 years ago cotton prices were at the $1 per pound which sparked these headlines. While living standards and prices have forged ahead in western countries the price we have paid for cotton has fallen year on year and it is only the disasters that have befallen the cotton harvests that have caused prices to return to these previous levels.

So what is the real price of cotton?

In Pakistan and China floods have caused chaos, in the former in particular displacing the populations of whole towns and villages in affected areas.

But even before the floods these people, as cotton farmers and pickers elsewhere, lived in considerable poverty. It's not easy to highlight particular exploitation in these countries but elsewhere we have highlighted the scandal of the government sponsored forced labour of the children of Uzbekistan in its cotton fields.

At Pier 32 our Fairtrade options mean that you can have confidence that a fair price is being paid to the farmer. By buying organic cotton you will be buying from a different market - here supplies may not be affected as much and prices although starting at a higher level may stay more stable. Our Starworld range produced in Egypt is unlikely to be immune to the price increases but you can be certain that in 2011 it will still allow us to offer the great value clothing that we do now.

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