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Where Am I Wearing Wednesday: Uzbek Cotton

Where Am I Wearing Wednesday: Uzbek Cotton

I know what you are wearing.

Maybe your computer cam is on, you think.

Maybe I’m standing behind you.


Or maybe I know what you are wearing because we’re all wearing it — cotton. (In fact, the first person who proves they aren’t wearing any cotton — nudity excluded — I’ll send a copy of my book “Where Am I Wearing?”). My shorts are 75% cotton and my shirt is 70% organic cotton. Socks = all cotton.

I know what you are wearing and by checking the “Made in Labels” you know where you are wearing, but there is one question that I’m betting neither one of us can answer: where is the cotton we are wearing from?

A lot of cotton is still produced right here in the U.S. If your T-shirt says made in country X of U.S. materials, you’re wearing U.S. cotton. If it doesn’t, it could be from anywhere. Maybe Uzbekistan.

And Uzbek cotton is some of the dirtiest around.Wal-Mart, GAP, and pretty much the entire U.S. apparel industry have banned Uzbek cotton. In Uzbekistan cotton production is largely blamed for the drying of the Aral Sea. “Fishing ports” are now 50 miles from the water. The resulting dust storms cause tuberculosis and cancer. During harvest season, buses don’t take kids to school but to the fields. Mind you, they are paid. But at the end of the season, if they didn’t pick enough cotton to cover the expense of the state to feed them, they owe.

How do you tell a nine-year-old, after months of work, that they owe you?

Are you wearing Uzbek cotton? Hard to tell. The majority of cotton, whether grown in the U.S., India, Brazil, or Uzbekistan, ends up in China. Once there, it’s anybody’s guess. Watch this video:

Take Action: The International Labor Rights Forum has some tips how to speak out about the use of child labor in the cotton industry. But it’s awfully hard to ban Uzbek cotton until we can trace it. Where Am I Wearing today? I’m not exactly sure.

Kelsey Timmerman is the author of Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. His wardrobe is 145% cotton. And his math is bad.

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