It’s everywhere — in the clothes we wear, the cushions we sit on, the ice cream we eat, and the bills we spend. It’s cotton: the fabric of our lives!
I’m already 5 weeks into my internship at the global headquarters of Cotton Incorporated, whose mission is to increase the demand for and profitability of cotton. Cotton Incorporated is behind the widely-recognized Seal of Cotton and the Fabric of Our Lives® campaign. I report directly to the Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain Marketing, who himself is an alum of Duke’s Master of Public Policy program (nothing beats working for a fellow Blue Devil!).
My first few weeks on the internship were devoted to learning all the ins and outs of cotton fiber development, cotton processing and cotton classification. I soon came to discover that cotton is one of the most traded agricultural crops of all agricultural commodities; the U.S. grows 15% of the world’s cotton, and 250 million people in nearly 80 countries make their livelihoods from this industry.
You might be asking yourself: how does cotton relate to public policy?! Believe it or not, cotton is not only at the heart of that shirt you’re wearing: it’s central to many domestic and global policies! Here’s an overview of policies on today’s cotton industry:
- Cotton is regulated as a food crop by the FDA, ensuring that the safety of genetically engineered varieties is regularly evaluated.
- The U.S. cotton industry has strong regulatory and compliance systems in place. The Department of Agriculture operates 10 classing offices across the Cotton Belt that trace and class bale samples.
- The U.S. government subsidizes domestic cotton farmers. Cotton subsidies have far-reaching implications on international trade, even leading Brazil to lodge a World Trade Organization dispute against the U.S in 2002.
- By 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy aims to restrict water usage in washing machines to 10 gallons of water per wash. To prepare for this water conservation measure, the cotton industry will have to research fabric finishes or new technologies that enhance the interaction between laundry detergent and cotton-based apparel.
- Just this year, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation — the Robin Danielson Act of 2014 — that would require further research into the health effects of menstrual hygiene products and would demand public disclosure of contaminants in these products. If passed, this act has the potential to increase consumer awareness, and, in turn, result in increased demand for cotton-made sanitary products (a win for the cotton industry!!).