The BP Deepwater Horizon spill has not only made horrific, long-lasting environmental damage, it will also have log-term impacts on the entire industry – future of deep sea drilling, increased regulation on spill prevention and response, engineering controls and standards as well as maintaining cash reserves for public compensation for losses. We have seen similar industry regulations from the banking fiasco of 2008. A more recent and potentially relevant example of government regulation aimed at combating negative social impacts associated with an industry is US Congress’s mandate that the electronics industry ban the use of metals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It should be noted that electronics manufacturers must substantiate this ban through traceability audits throughout their supply chain.
While the cotton industry would not likely cause the same magnitude of environmental or economic damage that the Deepwater Horizon spill or banking industry collapse caused, the cotton industry can learn from these events – and the new requirements of the electronics industry - and proactively take action to mitigate the risk of reputational damage or increased and burdensome regulations. To some consumers and vocal non-governmental organizations, cotton is perceived as being pesticide and water intensive. The Uzbek government’s use or acceptance of child labor during cotton harvest is also gaining more public attention and action by the US government. The cotton industry could proactively take action to mitigate these negative conditions and impacts as well as communicate the positive attributes of cotton and its contribution to society.
Is there a role the cotton industry could take to minimize the risks to the industry’s public perception associated with the most egregious environmentally and socially conditions?