It’s bigger than a dress!
For the month of December I will be participating in Dressember because I believe in everyday advocacy. By wearing a little black dress for 31 days I am raising awareness and funds for the millions of abused women and girls across the globe. The little black dress I am wearing (worn in rotation with another LBD I already owned) is made by and overcomer of sex trafficking who through Elegantees has been provided with secure source of income that reinforces independence, a healthy self image, and confidence that restores lives. You can sponsor my 31 day dress wearing mission to fight enforced labour and human trafficking by donating to the Dressember fundraiser page. The proceeds of the month long fundraiser support the work done by A21 and The International Justice Mission (IJM) who work to fight human trafficking and injustices against the poor on all levels, from top down policy work to bottom up rescues and rehabilitation of victims. Your dollar could help rescue children as young as two years old from cyber sex trafficking, as seen in this recent success story from the IJM. Please give even if you can only spare a dollar, every bit counts!
Today’s Outfit Rundown.
For day five of my month long dress-a-thon I donned my LBD and added some lightweight accessories. Cotton is a beautiful fabric to wear in warm weather as it is breathable and highly absorbent. The best thing about light cotton layers is that it give a little sun protection without having to slather up with sunscreen every time you leave the house. I’ve actually noticed through the five days of this challenge how obsessed I have become with wearing hats. I’ve never shared this before but several years back when I was sporting a pixie crop hairdo my dad was diagnosed with skin cancer. At the time I was working in a job where I was exposed to sunlight for much of the day (despite being inside) and was slipping on the shirts, slopping on the sunscreen and sliding on the sunnies. However, I didn’t wear hats. Why? Because short hair and a hat made me look like a cancer patient. My dad’s cancer scare was resolved and he got better, but it was at that moment of diagnosis I decided to grow my hair long again so I would feel comfortable wearing a hat. A decision that apparently has paid off. This outfit is all second hand accessories aside from my hat and boots. Most of my wardrobe is made up of vintage and secondhand items however I don’t deny myself new items and tend to buy quality investment pieces when I buy new. The boots worn in this outfit are several years old now and have been resoled twice. Sadly they are starting to fall apart from the inside out and it will be devastating to have to say goodbye to them one day.
Wait a Cotton Picking minute!
So you may have gathered I’m a bit of a fan of cotton. Sadly this hardy and long wearing fibre has a long standing association with human rights abuse. The video above is a 1950’s look back at the Southern plantation lifestyle in America. While it gives a general overview of how plantations were managed and how the caste system worked, it doesn’t go into and of the statistics of the forced labour regimes. From approximately 1526 to 1867 around 12.5 million slaves were shipped from Africa and around 10.7 million arrived in the Americas. Kept naked, packed closely together, and chained for long periods of time many of those who began the voyage didn’t survive the trip. Well over 90 percent of enslaved Africans were imported into the Caribbean and South America. Only about 6 percent of African captives were sent directly to British North America. Yet by 1825, the US had a quarter of the Africans in the New World.
In the American South (just like the plantation property shown above) one slaveholder held as many as a thousand slaves, while most others has 250 or less. The life of a slave was a difficult one. They suffered from a variety of health issues due to inhumane living and working conditions. Women were often forced to work late into their pregnancies still picking cotton in their last week before childbirth. The mortality rates of slave children were twice those of the Southern white children and half of all slave infant died in their first year of life, often due to undernourishment. Many slave owners supplied only the minimum food and shelter needed for survival, and forced their slaves to work from sunrise to sunset in order to get as much value for money as possible out of their labour force. Young adult men (up to around the age of 25) were favoured in the slave trade for their potential work output, however, young adult women had value over and above their ability to work in the fields as they were able to have children who by law were also slaves of the owner of the mother. This meant that the average price of female slaves was higher than their male counterparts up to puberty age. Slaves were at the mercy of their owners and plantation managers. While their treatment varied with the owner of the plantation and the plantations managers, they were subjected to a variety of horrors. Those who did’t comply with plantation rules were often physically punished (or their family was threatened), denied food, or threatened to be separated from their families. On December 6th in 1865 slavery in America was ended when Georgia ratified the thirteenth amendment officially abolishing slavery. While it’s hard for many of us to be able to understand the horror of being in this kind of situation we can gain a better understating by knowledge. A movie recommendation for anyone who wants to understand the experience of slavery (in a cinematic way) is 12 Years a Slave, based on the true story of Solomon Northup.
Cotton Picking and Uzbekistan
Slavery in the cotton industry in America might seem like a relic of the past but in other parts of the globe cotton picking for no profit is mandatory. Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest cotton exporters. Each year the Uzbekistan government forces millions of it’s citizens to take time our from their jobs, schooling and general daily lives to grow and harvest cotton. Refusing to do so will result in the loss of employment, loss of social security benefits and expulsion from school. Children are forced to work in the cotton sector instead of attending regular classes. Until recently, the government mobilized schoolchildren age 11-15 on a mass scale to pick cotton, leaving schools throughout much of the country effectively closed during the harvest season as pupils from the fifth grade and older and teachers from all grades worked in the fields. Due to sustained pressure from local and international organizations and foreign governments over many years, in 2012 the Uzbek government began to shift the demographics of its forced labor policies. Beginning with the 2012 harvest the government of Uzbekistan adopted a policy not to mobilize children younger than 16 on a mass scale. In 2013, the government extended this to first-year college students who are usually 16 years old, but continued the mass mobilization of second- and third-year students. In 2014 only third-year students were mobilized on a mass scale, including, in many cases, 17 year olds. Thousands of children were still sent to the fields in at least three regions in 2014, where local officials mobilized them in order to avoid stiff penalties for failing to meet production targets.
Those working in the cotton picking fields are exposed to chemicals, and live in unsanitary housing with a lack of safe drinking water during the picking season. As the child labour force has diminished the government have increased the adult labour force to make up numbers. With teachers, doctors, nurses and the like in the field harvesting cotton, there are a shortage of educational professionals as health providers in urban areas. Anyone Uzbek citizens who call for recognition of violation of their human rights and freedom of speech are harassed, detained, and/or exiled by the Karimov administration. An administration that work to keep the cotton sector in service to the government only, purposely keeping farmers in a state of poverty through a system of state-owned enterprise that keeps prices of cotton artificially low for farmers but create large revenue for the state on the global market. The cotton that is picked by the Uzbek people end up in garments across the globe. While there is a collection of labels that have pledge to avoid using Uzbekistan cotton, the forced cotton farming continues and without a transparent and traceable production system it is difficult for the designer and the consumer to be certain of where their cotton was originally sourced.
It is hard to believe that in 2015 there are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in human history, with an estimated 27 million in bondage across the globe. Men, women, and children are still being exploited for manual and sexual labor against their will.
If this fact makes you angry you can do something about it!
- Donate to the Dressember appeal that supports A21 and The International Justice Mission
- Head to Cotton Campaign and learn all about the Uzbekistan cotton regime
- Read this book for a witness account on working in the Uzbekistan cotton field
- Join the Anti Slavery moment against cotton crimes
Have you ever come across Uzbekistan cotton in your purchasing travels? Do you have another great resource for conscious cotton consumption? Let us know all about it.