Cotton has long been one of the world’s most valuable commodities. It's one of the 10 largest agricultural products worldwide, and the farming of cotton is a $23 billion global business. The 105.5 million bales (or 1.8 billion cubic feet) of cotton expected to be harvested this year employs millions of farmers across the world, supporting families from the U.S. to Africa and across India and Pakistan.

The industry says cotton is the fabric of our lives, but a variety of factors -- from climate change to abusive governments -- are tearing the fabric of the lives who toil to grow, process and eventually weave this crop. In an era where we're inundated with constant messaging, it is up to brands to relay the story of their cotton — and in the case of bad stories, strive to end them.

Cotton has a massive environmental impact across the world. The crop has a huge water footprint: WWF estimates that about 1,380 gallons of water is required to produce a pound of cotton. It takes about 2.2 pounds (or one kilo) to produce a pair of jeans. Even if that figure is exaggerated, nearly 75 percent of all cotton is grown on irrigated land around the world, from California's San Joaquin Valley, to the Nile River basin in Egypt to Gujarat State in India. Add the amount of pesticides often used in the farming of cotton (20 to 25 percent of the world’s agricultural chemicals, depending on the source), and the year-to-year increase in the demand for cotton is not sustainable. Figure in the human rights violations related to cotton production that are ongoing on some countries, with Uzbekistan being one of the worst offenders, and this is one crop that foments many environmental and social crises due to its very complicated supply chain.

Read the rest of the article, my latest on Triple Pundit, and part of a series on sustainable cotton.

Image credit: Better Cotton Initiative

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.