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What Will it Take to Curb Corruption in the Organic Cotton Sector?

Corruption is no simple thing to stamp out in any sector, but to do it in the organic cotton arena, it’s going to take what experts are calling “transformational integrity.”

The idea that the sector can use increased education to bring about the kind of integrity that fosters change was one two speakers steeped in promoting more sustainable practices spoke about at the recent Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Roundtable.

If a spinner is mixing organic cotton with conventional, it could clearly be a case of corruption. But if that same spinner is subject to drift from genetically modified (conventional) cotton and is only accidently—and unknowingly—mixing organic cotton with conventional, it can’t quite be called corruption. And there’s little way of proving which scenario was the case once the fact is found out.

So the sector has to find ways to encourage integrity.

In highlighting what can be done to “integrity-proof” the organic cotton sector, Joy Saunders, an award-winning UK-based integrity expert said it’s going to take accountability, competence, ethics and corruption control.

When it comes to accountability, it will be vital to improve transparency and links between the farm standard and the textile chain of custody standard as the cotton moves from farm to factory.

The sector should also work to adjust prices to reflect the efforts and impacts of organic agriculture to reward compliance and establish and apply standards of compliance for a more ethical sector. To help control corruption, compliance and integrity programs should be in place to prevent and uncover dishonesty.

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Chiming in, Lord Peter Melchett, policy director of Soil Association, the U.K.’s main organic food and farming association, said organic has started to see big growth in the U.K. and in the world in general, but problems within the sector abound.

The first of those problems is the widespread prevalence of chemicals.

In 2015 for example, Melchett said one record wheat crop in the U.K. was sprayed 18 times with 23 different chemicals. In some cases, 5 percent of chemicals can stay on the crop while as much as 95 percent can end up in the soil and water.

“We live in a pesticide laden world,” Melchett said.

Which is one reason farmers supporting organic practices are looking for greater integrity in the sector and reduced instances of corruption to help maintain the purity of their organic product.

In some countries, like Turkey, drift from conventional cotton can’t contaminate organic cotton crops because the country has banned GM seed altogether—part of the reason Turkey is the world’s second largest producer of organic cotton.

Other countries are working toward rules on regulating, in some cases eliminating GM cotton, and President Obama said recently that the recent Paris Agreement will be passed in November with inclusions surrounding soil regulations, Melchett said.

“We in the organic sector are aiming for no GM,” he said. “This is achieved through farming practices like green manures, returning crop residues to the soil, and the use of nitrogen-fixing legumes—all of which are central to organic agricultural methods.” And, of course, that transformational integrity that will be rooted and better, more ethical practices.