Toxic pesticides used in cotton production kill over 20,000 people a year, reveals the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in a candid interview with FashionUnited. As you read this article, there is a possibility that you or someone that you know is wearing clothing produced by irresponsible methods of cotton production. While some corners of the fashion industry are rushing to incorporate more sustainable practices into modern clothing, a self-conscious glance of your label reveals this is still an endemic problem.

The EJF has attracted widespread attention for it efforts to raise awareness of the social and environmental abuses in the cotton industry through campaigning and fundraising initiatives to list but a few. Larissa Clark, Marketing and PR Manager of EJF, explains the latest fundraiser, The Great Fashion Cycle: “We wanted to do something different to raise awareness and funds for our ethical cotton campaign to end social and environmental abuses in the cotton industry, like forced child labour and chronic health impacts from exposure to toxic pesticides that farming communities face.”

She says: “Rather than putting on an ethical fashion show, we decided to get people on their bikes by making a 300-mile bicycle journey between two of Europe’s iconic style capitals – London and Paris – to promote a fairer future for the fashion industry and raising £15,000 for the charity’s work.”

The EJF’s work has led to dramatic policy changes in some of the world’s biggest buyers of cotton. Clark says: “The aim of the cotton campaign is to eradicate the use of forced child labour and the deadliest pesticides from cotton production and promote sustainable alternatives.”

She adds: “EJF’s public campaign to press retailers to only sell ‘clean cotton’ has had a major impact on businesses resulting in significant gains for social and environmental justice including the creation of a National Action Plan and signing of two ILO conventions by the Uzbek government on child labour and significant progress towards a global ban on toxic pesticide endosulfan.”

Clark highlights: “EJF’s campaign has changed the CSR policies of over 40 of the world’s largest retailers including ASDA/Wal-Mart and Tesco, who have taken the unprecedented action of eliminating cotton from the world’s third largest exporter, Uzbekistan, from their supply chains until a time when the abuses of state-orchestrated child labour are resolved. Others have supported the Call to Action for a global ban on endosulfan.”

“With support from EJF, many retailers have undertaken rigorous supply chain audits and developed effective ‘track and trace’ systems so they can identify the country of origin for their cotton – something they previously had no idea about,” she adds.

Based on the scale of its work, the assumption is that the EJF is a big organisation but in reality it is a small charity (a team of seven) doing big things in the industry. Clark exceeds her PR title by doing her own fundraising and also taking to the open road in July which she beams will be a “ride of a lifetime.”