Organic cotton 'fraud' uncoveredLeading European retailers and brands such as H&M, C&A and Tchibo have unknowingly been selling certified organic cotton clothing contaminated with genetically modified cotton from India, in a suspected fraud that is certain to shake consumer confidence in organic.
The scale of the alleged fraud uncovered by the German edition of the Financial Times newspaper is shocking. Lothar Kruse, a director of the independent testing laboratory Impetus in Bremerhaven, who examined the cotton fabrics claimed around “30% of the tested samples” contained genetically modified (GM) cotton. The head of the Indian agricultural authority, Apeda, Sanjay Dave, told the newspaper they were dealing with fraud on "a gigantic scale."
The GM cotton found in the brand’s collections has been traced back to India which now supplies nearly half of the global supply of organic cotton. According to Organic Exchange figures – to be released shortly – India produced 61% of the total amount of organic cotton produced in 2008/09 with some 107,000 tonnes of fibre out of the total 175,113 tonnes grown worldwide.
It was reported that Indian authorities discovered the alleged fraud back in April 2009 and fines were imposed at that time on third party certification agencies EcoCert and Control Union, although no statements have yet been issued by these organisations.
There has been a strong suggestion in the sustainable textile industry that all has not been well in certain sections of the Indian organic cotton sector for some time. Reports from reliable, trusted organisations and producer groups about fraud within the Indian sector of the organic cotton industry have been ignored in the hope that it would not reveal itself.
That vain hope has now vanished, and the industry needs to establish firmer rules of governance over organic cotton production, while brands need to invest more in improved supply chain transparency and more thorough testing.
The brands involved in the alleged fraud have been criticised for not adequately monitoring their supply chains elsewhere. Monika Buening of the Federal Consumer Affairs Agency said that both H&M and C&A needed to take immediate action to limit the damage. "The fashion chains (H&M and C&A) were not vigilant enough," the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper quoted her as saying.
A spokeswoman for the Swedish clothing chain H&M told news agency AFP that the company became aware of the incident last year and admitted that GM cotton could have made it into H&M‘s organic range. C&A are said to be undertaking a thorough investigation.
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