TTL Spotlight: What do the farmers protests in India have to do with Global Fashion?

Farmers protest India
Image Courtesy: Forbes via Getty Images

What has sparked the protests?

On 20th September 2020, India’s Upper House of Parliament & Prime Minister Narendra Modi passed 3 new laws known as the ‘Farmers Bills’. Since then farmers (mostly from the state of Punjab), have been protesting due to the impacts these bills will have on their livelihoods in the long term.

Bill 1: The Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Bill- permits direct trade of farmers’ produce with Private buyers.

Bill 2: The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act- creates an agreement between a farmer and a buyer before the production or rearing of any crops.

Bill 3: The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance- stock holding of some commodities like onions, potatoes, cereal will become limitless for buyers.

What are the consequences of the three bills passed?

These bills effectively cut out the government from regulating the crop markets known as ‘mandis’. Though the bills allow for a direct relationship to be made between farmers and private buyers; the farmers fear that buyers will eventually begin to exploit their labour by driving down the prices at which they buy crops and that the existing Minimum Support Price that is assured by the government will no longer apply.

It also makes way for big retailers to control eventually buy out the land and control the supply chain, giving very little room for farmers to grow independently.

Beyond the Bills

These set of bills are just the tip of the iceberg with many underlying and historical issues causing anguish to the farmers. These include:

  • High suicide rates- 5,957 farmers died by suicide in 2019; 85% of whom were owners of farmland.
  • Private corporations driving down prices of crops already despite there being a Minimum Support Price at locally governed markets.
  • Heavy debts due to failed crops, lack of support from banks and the government leading to farmers turning to illegal lenders.
  • The Green Revolution took place in 1965 with the involvement of US corporates who introduced GMO crops to India’s crops which required a expensive irrigation tools, pesticides and fertilisers. This in turn has lead to soil erosion and farmers landing in debt to remain competitive.

What does it have to do with the global fashion supply chain?

India is the largest producer of cotton in the world surpassing China with 29 million bales in the 2019-20 season.

These bills will allow industrial textiles businesses to drive down prices they buy cotton from farmers, produce fabrics at a low cost and pass these low costs down to fashion brands/ garment suppliers.

Though the government has said that these bills are in place to benefit the farmers and give them the power to make deals as they please with private corporations, the farmers fear is that the power will in fact be at the hands of these businesses.

Private players are already offering lower than the MSP rates for cotton from farmers in Punjab. Without making the MSP legal among the new bills this could become the norm leaving farmers with no choice but to sell at lower rates.

The global fashion industry already extracts resources for financial gains at those on top and these bills will only allow them to exploit further.

All-in-all; the issues farmers have been facing in India for decades and beyond is in dire need of beneficial solutions for them. 

As a brand that represents India's conscious fashion, such issues are important for us to raise and begin discussions over. We're striving to educate ourselves, look at the bigger picture and present our findings.

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