Cotton Producers from the American Southwest Call on New Zealand Company to Protect from the Taint of Slave Trade

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by James Holloway
Cotton ready for harvest near Sodville, Texas. [Image: Jay Phagan]

New Zealand-based forensics firm Oritain has signed a deal to prove the origin of Supima cotton products, as the fiber and fashion industries show increasing concern over slave labor issues in some of the source countries.

Supima, which represents over 500 pima cotton growers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, announced the deal in February.

Founded in 2008 in New Zealand’s south island, Oritain specializes in the use of advanced scientific methods to trace the origin sources of cotton at any stage in the production process. It will be the first time such technology has been used to trace the origins of cotton products.

Due to the complexity of supply chains in the textile industries, the risk of cotton fibers blending or being substituted with unfamiliar foreign fibers is of particular concern to companies.

US brands are particularly interested in avoiding cotton from countries where the local cotton industry is dependent upon state sponsored slave labor.

Over the last six months, Oritain had been building up a massive database of cotton samples in Egypt, India, China, and America in order to combat this problem, according to Grant Cochrane, the company’s chief executive.

The United States is the world’s third largest producer of cotton. An average of 65% of US cotton is exported each year making the United States by far the largest exporter of cotton in the world. Vietnam was the largest single buyer of US cotton in 2016, with China, Indonesia, and Korea also ranking as major export destinations. In 2015, cotton production supported 126,553 jobs in the United States.

James Holloway is an intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and a student at the University of Sydney in Australia.