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ICAC workshop talks about sustainability
Jun '11
The Secretariat of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), in cooperation with GlobalWorks Foundation, organized a workshop on Best Practices to Ensure Responsible Sourcing in the Cotton Value Chain. The workshop was held from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM on May 11 at the Embassy of Australia, 1601 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington DC 20036. The purpose of the workshop was to showcase responsible practices by reputable performers in the private sector.

In his introductory remarks, the Chairman of the ICAC Standing Committee, Patrick Packnett, USDA/FAS, noted that cotton and cotton textile industries are central to the economic growth of both developed and developing countries and contribute to sustainable and socially responsible development.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the cotton industry is being criticized for having negative impacts on the environment and for social abuses. Mr. Packnett noted that the cotton industry must respond to criticisms by correcting abuses where they occur, by improving production practices to maintain the competitiveness of the cotton industry and by providing objective information about industry performance.

The Chairman thanked Jon Hixson of Cargill, David Rosenberg of Ecom, Mike Gumina of Pioneer and Maureen Mazurek of Monsanto for agreeing to participate in the Workshop. He also acknowledged Bama Athreya of GlobalWorks Foundation for her assistance in recruiting speakers and encouraging participation. Mr. Packnett extended his thanks on behalf of the Standing Committee to the Embassy of Australia for hosting the Workshop. He noted that Australia was the first cotton producing country to conduct an environmental audit of its industry in 2000, since updated at regular intervals, and to benchmark industry performance and work toward 100% compliance with its Best Management Practices guidelines.

Summary of Issues Discussed

Monitoring Compliance:

In response to a question about monitoring compliance with social standards, panelists described auditing procedures, including random sampling of fields during harvest periods. It was emphasized that auditors must actually visit fields to conduct first-hand observations of activity rather than relying on interviews in villages.

It was noted that cultural changes are necessary in many rural areas to bring labor practices in line with international conventions, and it was agreed that growers must realize an economic benefit from improved production practices.

Children's Work vs. Child Labor:

Child labor is defined by International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions as work that is hazardous, unduly arduous, or that interferes with education. Panelists noted that children commonly work in agriculture around the world, and that in many rural areas of developing countries there are no schools to attend. The legal working age varies from country to country and sometimes from state to state within countries. Workshop participants from India and Pakistan recounted their own positive experiences working as children in village agriculture, and they noted that manual work contributes to skill development, thus advancing education.

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