Pakistan still assessing cotton damage amid floods, road to recovery ahead – WWD
Pakistan is under water and fashion relief efforts are only seeping in as casualties are tallied.
But Pakistan remains at a standstill in assessing the loss and damage that has cost lives and livelihoods.
Since record rainfall hit Pakistan in mid-June, at least 1,100 people have died amid flooding, partly caused by melting ice and unprecedented rainfall during the usual monsoon season. With the latest climate-induced disaster, the United Nations said damage had affected at least 33 million people (a third of the country), destroying a million homes and leaving many stranded in its wake. In a video message shared on August 30, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for $160 million in aid to ease the “monsoon on steroids” facing Pakistan.
And fashion can’t just turn a blind eye.
“The monsoon in Pakistan is not an isolated case – it’s for everyone to consider,” Ebru Debbag, executive director of global sales and marketing at Soorty, told WWD. “I am frustrated that the transformation of our industry is taking far too long and that we are yet to see the true causes and effects of global actions. I feel a deep need to alert all citizens of the world that we are all in the same boat and that we must act together. It is not enough to be upset by what has happened – even if it is devastating – but we must act… All of us and now.
Although Debbag said it is too early to assess the true impact of the monsoon on the cotton and textile sector, he said there will surely be multiple consequences. “What happens in cotton fields in Pakistan will emerge in fashion stores in Europe or the United States,” Debbag said, the global fashion industry has to deal with Pakistan – one of the top five countries cotton producers in the world – as an inherent expansion of its existence and to “co-create longer-term alliances”.
Calculation of cotton losses
In Pakistan, the majority of cotton (a main economic driver) is grown in two regions: Punjab and Sindh. According to the Cotton Crop Assessment Committee, local agricultural production in the 2021-2022 crop year was forecast at 9.37 million bales (with 5.44 million bales for Punjab, which is the main region producer, and 3.5 million bales for Sindh).
The country’s planning minister, Ahsan Iqbal, estimated that at least 45 percent of cotton crops were destroyed, but cotton growers and ginners are still studying the damage and fear inaccuracies, which are leading to speculation over the costs.
“What happens is that most of the damage is along the belt where some of the crops are, some can be salvaged, that is, up to the cotton harvest,” Munir Mashooqullah, founder of M5 Groupe, one of the world’s largest clothing suppliers. , which includes Synergies Worldwide, told WWD. He warned against incorrect figures and said field assessments as of Thursday showed less devastation in the southern Punjab region compared to Sindh (as also confirmed by satellite images). Comparable past floods in Pakistan’s Sindh region caused between 2 and 2.2 million bales of cotton destroyed (about 24% less than estimated current production), according to 2011 figures from the Cotton Brokers Association, although that this latest situation, aggravated by the monsoon, is unprecedented.
Pakistan supports programs like the Better Cotton Initiative. Better Cotton has hundreds of thousands of certified farmers in Pakistan, which is the program’s second-largest sourcing partner. Although the cotton organization reported initial losses to the media, the organization backtracked on earlier inaccurate estimates and told WWD it was still “gathering feedback from our field staff on the impact and would share information with stakeholders in the coming weeks. Better Cotton offered words of solidarity to those affected by the floods and said it was providing humanitarian support on the ground through its program partners.
Reconfiguration of the succession for the clothing and textile workforce
Relief can’t come soon enough, and fashion workers’ rights groups are organizing.
Organizations like the Labor Education Foundation, in conjunction with industry watchdog Remake, are raising funds to provide immediate relief to those affected, but garment workers already face deepening inequalities.
“At the moment it is a relief phase where we are trying to rescue people and [address] their food and shelter needs,” said Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labor Education Foundation. In many cases, people have left the flooded areas and are staying in tents. Mahmood stressed their immediate need for medical attention to treat developing skin allergies and ward off mosquitoes. Due to the situation, he said, “the thread will become more expensive. Garment factories will face more difficulties. The effect of this will be directly imposed on the workers. Workplace safety is not [secured] here, although the labor law speaks of “safe jobs” for workers. Workers will lose jobs if employers face these kinds of problems, having to import cotton and not having enough orders. »
While immediate relief efforts are the priority, Mahmood stressed the need for long-term planning amid an estimated 40% price hike due to inflation in Pakistan, including ways to alternative livelihoods for agricultural workers and decent wages as a pillar of fair work. He pointed out that living wages are a liability for fashion brands contracting in Pakistan, and there are many of them.
Nasir Mansoor, General Secretary of the National Union of Pakistan (one of the most visible unions in the country where very few garment workers are unionized), described the importance of inflation in commerce. “We have a food crisis, a textile crisis and a cotton crisis. We must open our borders. We don’t just say this for cotton and our rice, but for everyday use items. There is an increase of more than 50% in the prices of items of daily use – potato, chicken. People can’t buy that.
Mansoor recalled fashion’s global responsibility, pointing to growing discontent among young workers. “Brands are not worker friendly, they only care about the quality of the goods and the timing. They don’t care what happens in the workplace. Workers’ anger grows and grows. In Pakistan, 80% of workers are under 35 years old.
Amid the ongoing struggle for workers’ justice, Mansoor left some words of hope. “We are very optimistic, but we must tell our friends and comrades about the material conditions that exist.”