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LONDON – The next issue of Apparel Insider, we put the spotlight on Uzbekistan, which is in the process of investing millions in its textile industry as it looks to woo brands and retailers.

Often discussed in the context of Uzbekistan’s cotton industry is the Aral Sea, the demise of which has become associated with the cotton sector. In a detailed piece of analysis on the Aral Sea, Veronica Bates Kassatly says claims that its destruction are a cotton issue are wide of the mark.

She says: “In the apparel sector there is an almost universal perception that the destruction of the Aral Sea is a cotton problem. Once we all stop buying cotton, we are told, the problem will be solved.

“That is not true. We have all been misled, and cotton farmers everywhere, have a right to be angry. It’s not a cotton problem, it’s a resource allocation problem, and simply not buying cotton will not change anything.”

Her analysis shows that cotton is not the thirstiest crop in Aral region. Moreover, satellite images show the Aral Sea has continued to shrink since the end of the Soviet era – during which an aggressive policy of agricultural expansion was pursued.

She says the story around the Aral Sea is far more nuanced than that propagated by those who have used its shrinkage as a stick with which to beat the cotton sector.

“Not only has the irrigated area within the Aral basin declined slightly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the area under cotton has fallen markedly,” she says. “But this has not halted the Aral Sea’s demise.”

She also argues that if brands head back into Uzbekistan, support of the infrastructure to help restore the Aral Sea should be a priority. She argues: “The apparel sector already spends tens of millions of dollars annually on various sustainability initiatives of no proven worth (€21m on the Better Cotton Initiative alone, in 2019). Would it be wiser for the major players to switch from unsubstantiated initiatives to restoring the Aral Sea

“Surely this would be a more powerful and effective message of sustainability and intent to make amends for the global impact of fast fashion, than anything that the present system can provide?”

The full analysis will appear in our next magazine, out in April. For subscriptions, click here

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