Ethical T-Shirt printing

Why Shirtworks has chosen to offer an organic option and be the only Soil Association accredited screen-printing and embroidery company in the World.

It is an uncomfortable truth that the Earth has finite resources. The majority of us will press on with our complicated lives without the energy or will to confront this as a problem which we must all embrace at some time. If it is not going to be us, it will be our children or grandchildren.

These are words hang heavy as a cliche but the truth is inescapable. At some point in the 21st century we will be facing shortages of natural fuels, clean drinking water and fertile land which will propel us into new conflicts for scarcer and scarcer resources.

History is replete with such examples of nations competing for land, food, women and dominance; we have examples of ancient civilizations and cultures fracturing and decaying as the resources and the environment which sustained them become exhausted. So the problem is not a new one, but the difference between a Mayan culture disintegrating 2000 years ago and what might happen in the 21st century is that the world is now a much smaller place. We cannot simply move on to pastures new as the global population speeds inexorably to cover the entire globe consuming more and more and more.

So what can you or we do? Well, we can only do our little bit in our little sector to help. This begins with us understanding the problem and then having the will to act, read below to begin your journey.

Some illustrative facts about cotton production taken from the WWF report 2007

8506 litres of water (irrigation and rainfall) are needed on average to grow 1 kg of cotton lint (or roughly a pair of jeans) and the textile industry is estimated to use 378 billion litres of water annually, using up to 200 litres of water to process, dye and finish each kilo of textiles.
In the 1990s, estimated cases of pesticide poisoning a year in agriculture were up to several million, resulting in between 20,000 and 40,000 deaths some of which relate to cotton growing.
The surface area of the Aral Sea has decreased by 85% due to irrigated cotton cultivation in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
over the last 40 years. Twenty of the 24 native fish species there are now extinct including the sturgeon that produced world renowned caviar, and many more fish and bird species are close to extinction.
Although cotton cultivation in Central America has now declined to low levels, only 2% of the hardwood forest in the original cotton-growing areas remains intact and coastal savannas and mangrove forests have also been destroyed.
It is estimated that more than 50% of topsoil from all farmland was lost in the last century, representing an enormous
economic loss. As cotton is grown in hot arid regions, the soil is often of poor quality, with organic content less than 1%. This makes the soils fragile and vulnerable to erosion by wind and water, and to salinisation due to poor irrigation and drainage.
Child labour, and debt or bonded labour in which farm workers or their families are forced to work to pay off debts to other farmers or seed and chemical suppliers, long hours and inadequate pay are among the poor social conditions to be rectified in the making of cotton.

It all sounds pretty bleak but there is hope and it begins with the choices we all make at the critical point of making the buying decision.

Shirtworks has teamed up with the Soil Association and worked hard to gain accreditation for our organic solutions.

What does organic mean?
“Organic means that something has been produced according to comprehensive standards that are verified by independent certification bodies. It is the most reliable, transparent and rigorous system available across the globe for ensuring sustainable production”
“Organic farming uses traditional and new scientific knowledge to grow crops in a way that develops healthy, fertile soil, conserves biodiversity and protects natural resources – minimising the use of non-renewable and off-farm inputs.”
“True sustainability isn’t about tinkering around the edges. It means making the whole production system work with our resources, environment and people in a way that allows cotton farming and processing and the people involved in it to prosper, for many years to come.”

“While some schemes provide an important step on the ladder to improving the impacts of cotton production, they do not go far enough. The majority of cotton production is still toxic, thirsty, and energy intensive. The rise of GM cotton is putting farmers livelihoods and choices at risk.” Soil Association report 2012.

This accreditation demonstrates our commitment to help develop a more sustainable and fairer market for cotton production with the focus on 5 key areas.
1  Give control to farmers, not GM companies
2  Eliminate hazardous synthetic pesticides
3  Help farmers feed their families
4  Save precious water
5  Combat climate change

With these criteria in mind and in working partnership with the Soil Association, we have sourced a number of Fair Trade, GOTS and WRAP certified T-Shirts, Polo Shirts, Hoodies, and Sweatshirts as well as refined and regimented our printing and embroidery processes to ensure we meet the highest global standards for our organic products and services.

Consumers can be sure that a product carrying the Global Organic Trading Standard (GOTS) symbol is not only produced with a minimum of 95% organic fibre content but also processed to strict environmental and social criteria Claudia Kersten Marketing Director, GOTS.

If you would like a copy of our in-house organic production manual for your own records to demonstrate to your trading partners your commitment to due diligence and your own corporate and social responsibility charter then please email

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