WAKEFIELD – In our latest Ecotextile Talks podcast, our cotton expert Simon Ferrigno tells host Phil Berman why he’d like to see a parliamentary-style inquiry into widespread fraud in the organic cotton sector.
Ferrigno also talks about his recent investigation into organic cotton fraud which was published as a special eight-page feature in the April/May 2022 edition of Ecotextile News magazine and later posted online HERE.
And he reveals how, since he wrote his report, even more whistle-blowers have come forward – many of them unwilling to be quoted for fear of losing their jobs – to shed more light on what Ferrigno says is a long-running problem.
“This has been a running sore,” he says. “It’s a problem we’ve known about in the sector since the late 2000s, about 2008. But we've started to have more whistle-blowers come forward saying this is a serious problem, the numbers don’t match, the big players know the numbers don’t match but they make far too much money to do anything about it.”
Many of these whistle-blowers work for organic certification bodies who claim the data they are being given is not accurate and feel like they’re being made the ‘scapegoats’ as confidence in data from India – where most organic cotton is grown – continues to fall.
Ferrigno suggests the problem is that there is little incentive to report the right numbers because “they would fall dramatically and that means the profits in the sector would fall dramatically”.
Another issue, he says, is the lack of a regulatory body for the organic cotton sector; the nearest being the Indian export agency APEDA (Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Agency) and the International Organic Accreditation Service – a private body which checks that certification bodies are doing what they’re supposed to do.
Ferrigno tells Berman that his key message would be for the organic sector to build a direct relationship with the authentic organic cotton farmers who he says are the main victims of fraud within the current system.
“My post-article thought is that we almost need a parliamentary inquiry type approach. That is a couple of legal minds and a sector specialist to put every single big player in the industry in front of them; all the people who’ve worked in this for years and ask them, how do things work? What's wrong with it? And what do we do?
“You almost need to completely tear up what people have been doing for the last 40 years and start afresh, because the system no longer works. People will always try to defraud the system or seek an easy solution, so you do need to prepare for those future battles. What we can’t do is keep doing the same thing and hoping that it’s going to turn out different the next time.”