No one made a greater error than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.

Edmund Burke


In this activity participants learn about the social, economic and environmental costs of a cotton T-shirt. They then go on to plan and implement action to address the entailed human rights violations.

Related rights

• The right to desirable work and to join trade unions
• The right to adequate living standard
• The right to a safe and healthy environment


• To learn about the globalised nature of the garment industry and understand the true cost of the clothes we buy
• To develop skills to analyse information, plan and implement action
• To encourage creativity, imagination and a commitment to activism


• Flip chart and marker pens


• Make copies of the information sheet, one per participant
• Be aware of your role in supporting people's participation!

Key Date
  • Second Saturday in MayWorld Fair Trade Day


Part 1: Looking at the issues
1. Explain that the group are going to take a closer look at the clothes they buy, and the social, economic and environmental impacts of their choices.
2. Ask people to look at the labels in their T-shirts or sweaters to see where they are made and what they are made of. What did they cost? Make a chart on the flip chart, listing all the countries and prices.
3. Ask if money is the only consideration; then hand out the information sheets "Tracking the true cost of cotton" and "The true cost of one cotton T-shirt" and give participants 5 minutes to read them.
4. Then go on to brainstorm the issues that the information raises, for instance, labour rights including child labour, the use of resources (water and fuel), damage to the environment by pesticides and other toxins, and the consequences of globalisation.
5. Ask the group how, in the light of this knowledge, they feel about buying T-shirts. What can they do to take action against the violations? Brainstorm their ideas for taking action, for instance, to take more care of their clothes so that they don't wear out so quickly, to buy only fair-trade T-shirts in the future or to launch a campaign in their locality to raise awareness about the issues among their peers. Discuss which ideas they think they might most like to take forward. Let them research for more information and to think about the feasibility of their ideas.

Part 2: Decisions about taking action
6. Let participants review the research, refine their ideas and agree on what sorts of actions to take.
7. Ask them to get into small groups according to the type of action they would like to take and to draft a short, outline proposal which should include:
• Clear aims and objectives
• A description of the proposed activity (boycott, concerts, television or radio programmes, street theatre, leafleting, etc.), including reasons for their choice
• A timetable for preparing the activity and implementing it
• The places where the activity will take place (schools, public buildings, etc.)
• Estimated costs and resources needed.
8. Ask each group to submit their proposals and ask everyone to comment and to make suggestions for improvements.

Part 3: Implementation
• Either choose one action for the whole group to participate in, or let participants work in small groups according to what action they want to take.
• At the end of the action or campaign, review how it went and what the group achieved.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

After part 1:
• Is money the most important cost? If not, why not?
• How important are the social, economic and environmental costs? Is one more important than another? Which human rights are being violated?
• How much would you be prepared to pay for a T-shirt?
• What makes a good campaign?
• Do you think that institutions working in the field of the protection of workers' rights, such as NGOs, international organisations, United Nations agencies, and organisations leading anti-globalisation campaigns, are making a difference?  Why? Why not?
After part 2:
• How easy was it to agree on an action plan? Is everyone happy about the way the decisions were made in the small groups? Why? Why not?
• Why did people choose to take the action they did?
• Does everyone feel involved? Why? Why not?
• Which human rights violations are the different groups targeting?
After part 3:
• How did the action or campaign go? Did it go to plan? Why? Why not?
• What do you need to remember for another time?
• Did everyone feel involved and their abilities used? If not, why and what could be done better next time?
• What else have you learnt from doing the activity and from taking action?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

Be well prepared. Read the section in Chapter 3 on taking action for a comprehensive overview of ways to take action and how to organise it. Also read about Hart's ladder of participation in the background information on Citizenship and Participation.
You will find information about transnational companies in the background information on Globalisation. Before you start this activity, check if the "Clean Clothes Campaign" or a similar organisation has branches in your country.

Inform yourself about the actions that the Clean Clothes Campaign is running and consider using their ready-made tools. It is easier to take action, for instance to put the CCC's campaign video about sportswear on the group's website or blog, than to make material to raise public awareness yourself. However, one of the objectives of this activity is to stimulate participation and creativity. Thus, you should emphasise that they have complete freedom to "invent" any kind of new campaign strategies.

If you want to put the cost in terms of carbon footprint, then Ecometrica has made an assessment of the carbon footprint of clothes, taking a pack of 3 pairs of underpants as its example. Pants and T-shirts are likely to have a similar emissions' profile – although  arguably pants should be washed slightly more frequently, but are probably ironed less often! The result is 57 kilogrammes of CO2 from cradle to grave. Go to and search for "apparel fact sheet".

VariationsGoto top

You can develop part 1 of the exercise to encourage people to think more deeply about the true costs; thus:
1. Start by asking participants the prices of their T-shirts and to agree on an average price.
2. Next, ask them to look at their labels to see where the T-shirts come from.
3. Then ask people in small groups to brainstorm a list of all the steps in the production process from growing the cotton to retailing the item in a shop.
4. In plenary, compare the lists and make one common list that summarises the different elements under the general headings of transport, labour costs, energy use, and so on.
5. Next, again in their small groups, ask participants to put a price on each item, for example on growing the cotton, the total labour costs, transport, and so on.
6. In plenary again, discuss the groups estimates.
7. Finally handout the information sheet and ask for comments.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Contact the branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign in your country and develop the work the group has started. 
You could investigate fair trade issues about sports shoes; the following link gives statistics for the true costs of sports shoes:

The group may like to explore the issues and dilemmas relating to corporate social responsibility. For example, many good causes and events receive sponsorship from companies that are responsible for human rights violations. These companies may also be polluting the environment in the process of manufacturing goods. The group may like to discuss some of the issues raised in the following statement by Jeremy Gilley, film maker and founder of Peace One Day: "from Peace One Day's point of view, we could not exist or function without corporate sponsorship. My position is very clear. I feel strongly that in order to influence the supply chain we have to be 'in the room'. It's very difficult, perhaps impossible to find a company whose entire supply chain from top to bottom complies 100% with international human rights/trade law, although of course this is a position which is desirable".
Information relating specifically to this example can be found at and

If the group wants to explore the right to desirable work and to join trade unions, they could do the activity "Ashique's story"  which looks at the issue of child labour or "Trade Union meeting". If the issue of sportswear came up and people want to look at other aspects of human rights relating to sport, you could go on to do the activity "Just a minute".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Continue the work you have started by getting together with other local interest groups and mark World Fair Trade Day. You will find plenty of inspiration from

You can also use the knowledge and experience gained from the work you have just done to campaign about another issue that concerns the group. There are numerous opportunities throughout the year to join with others to raise awareness about other human rights issues, for instance women's rights on International Women's Day, March 8; refugees on June 20 and human rights on December 10. By collaborating with others, you demonstrate your solidarity with all who struggle for human rights, you will make new friends, and you will have fun and learn.

Further informationGoto top

There are many organisations working for fair production and fair trade. Use your search engine to find the organisations that are working in your locality. The following organisations have partners in many European countries: has a lot of information and runs campaigns that you can participate in.
• Clothes for a Change Campaign includes an article: "Did child labour make your shirt?"
• People Tree is the pioneer of fair trade fashion internationally:
• The Environmental Justice Foundation's report "Children behind our cotton" details the shocking conditions endured by more than an estimated one million children – some as young as five – who work 12-hour days in extremes of hot and cold weather, many suffering physical, verbal and sometimes sexual abuse:
• The Fair Wear Foundation's mission is to improve labour conditions in the garment industry:
• Fair Trade Resource Network is an information hub designed to increase the fair trade and to "create a market that values the people who make the food we eat and the goods we use":
• The Play Fair campaign is a coalition of labour rights groups that seek to push sportswear brands that produce products for the Olympic Games to abolish sweatshop conditions in their supply chains and to respect labour rights:

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Tracking the true cost of cotton
Cotton T-shirts are the product of a number of different global industries, with production in almost every country in the world. Here is an example:

A typical cotton farm in Burkina Faso is a freehold, worked on by a family who cultivate the six or eight hectares of land. One kilo of Burkina Faso-produced raw cotton is worth €0.23. For many of the cotton producers the cash they get from selling the cotton is the only money they receive in the whole year.

From the farm, the cotton is transported to the ginning factory to make lint, a process which takes the cost per kilo to €0.56. Workers are paid €73.40 every two weeks.

The cotton is now transported for export to the Togo port of Lome, where it is sold to merchants at €0.88 per kilo. Over half of it is sold to China: it is loaded onto cargo ships for ports such as Shanghai, where it is sold to local spinning factories for €0.97 per kilo. Most of the workers on the line come from poorer areas, often in China’s vast rural hinterland. They live in dormitories in the factory and work very long hours for low pay.

The garments themselves - made for many of the West’s most famous brands, often in the same massive factory as where the yarn is spun - are now taken to a port and loaded for export. The average price of a T-shirt imported into the US is €1.10, but a downtown department store in Manhattan will sell two for €14.70.

Cotton that started in Africa costing €0.56 a kilo is now worth €18.40 a kilo.

This information is from the Internet: BBC news channel programme, “Tracking the true cost of cotton”, 2 May 2007.

The true cost of one cotton T-shirt
• Water use: 2,157 litres (45% is used for irrigation)
• Energy use: 8 kilowatt hours (28,800,000 Joules) of electricity for spinning and sewing machines
41.6 – 110 litres of fuel for transport by land and sea
• Transport distances: 8,851 – 15,128+ km
• Gas emissions: NOx, CO, CO2, (greenhouse gasses) SO2, N2O, volatile compounds
• Toxins: 1-3g pesticides, diesel exhaust, heavy metals (dyes)
• Cost on import: €0.44 – 0.77
• Child labour: in 17 countries, the average wage is €0.37 per day
• Miscellaneous: 53-91 g of fertilizer

Source: Earth Intelligence Network,