As the world comes together through the growth and connectivity of global trade, opportunities exist to enhance the economies of developing countries - including the many that produce or process cotton. However, weak governance structures and systems - both nationally and internationally - can hinder a country's opportunity to grow its economy, strengthen industries, and improve the livelihoods of its people.
Governance in developing countries begins with the government itself - how it establishes and reforms laws, policies, market incentives, research, as well as providing basics rights and needs of its citizens. It is widely accepted that democratic governments are an essential starting point for ensuring good governance is possible in a given country. Autocratic governments or dictatorships, on the other hand, are often more prone to corruption, practice [family ties], and fail to provide even the most basic services to their people.
An example of a country that suffers from lack of governance and is of significant importance to the global cotton industry is Uzbekistan. The Government of Uzbekistan facilitates the egregious child labor in cotton cultivation in that country. Many brands have committed to boycotting Uzbek cotton in an effort to stop child labor, as well as environmental degradation. Should the brands successfully remove Uzbek cotton from their supply chains, it is not yet known how this may affect the cost and flow of cotton from this top-producing region.
The cotton industry may face some challenges from the failure of both democratic and autocratic governments' failure to install basic governance in their government and services. Their shortcomings can limit the access to a free and fair market should brands' boycotts succeed, failure to support farmers and processors can limit the production of cotton and cotton products, failure to prepare for the adaption to climate change can impose significant, long-term risks to cotton production.
While influencing government change from the outside can be challenging and extremely limited. However, some organizations, such as United Nations have succeeded. In addition, some influential parties have proven to be instrumental in influencing policy reform, especially when governmental benefits can be clearly communicated.
QuestionsShould the cotton industry explore mutually beneficial engagement with strategically important and politically sensitive governments (e.g. Uzbekistan) in an attempt to affect positive change?