Category Archives: politics

Deadly White Gold

When you’ve got a bargain, do you think about who’s paid for it?

When I buy underwear, I ask myself  “is the cotton used to make this organic cotton?” If it isn’t organic, I follow up with a series of sub-questions tripping around “what permanently debilitating condition does the farmer who grew this have?” and “which pesticide gave it to him?”

Actually, I don’t. And nor, I suspect, do you. I give the style a cursory glance, determine if I would be proud to have it hanging around the house to dry, and check the price tag. And check if my bum would look big in it.

The source, the origin, whether a farmer has a debilitating condition or if he got paid a fair price for his hard labour…that matters little when I’m choosing a triangular piece of cloth I hope won’t show me up when I next pull. Pesticides? The last thing on my mind when I have Visible Panty Line to consider.

Shruthi, an endosulfan victim in Kerala

Shruthi, an endosulfan victim in Kerala

Pesticides are toxic chemicals sprayed on crops to kill “pests”…or any other living thing that can damage those crops. Insecticides kill insects, herbicides kill weeds. So on. So forth.

Hazardous chemicals associated with global cotton production also kill little fishies and get into the drinking water. Chemicals are known to contaminate freshwater rivers in America, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Australia, Greece and West Africa.

Despite a ban across 62 countries and a pledge by its primary manufacturer, Bayer, to cease its distribution, a ‘persistent organic pollutant’ known as endosulfan is in widespread use on crops from cotton, soy, coffee, tea, and vegetables. Its ban is due to its high toxicity to humans (among other living organisms) and its knockweed-like knack of not just keeping pests away, but everything else that may do the environment a bit of good.

On humans, endosulfan can cause “convulsions, psychiatric disturbances, epilepsy, paralysis, brain oedema, impaired memory and death.” Spend too much time around it – like cotton growers in India and West Africa – and you run the risk of immuno suppression, neurological disorder, birth defects, chromosomal abnormalities, and significantly decreased mental capacity.

Aldicarb, a nerve agent, is one of the most toxic pesticides applied to cotton. A teaspoon on the skin is enough to kill an adult. Yet it is the second most used pesticide in cotton production.

Despite pesticide prevalence among non-organic cotton growers, chances are you won’t be able to detect it in your underwear or t-shirt. All traceability gets lost at the spinning level of production…the bit where various cotton sources are spun into fabric. So cotton ginned from Mali could end up in the same cloth as cotton ginned in India (ginning – where seeds are separated from the cotton boll – is the process that comes before the fabric is spun). This lack of traceability makes it difficult to identify which retailers import the most non-organic cotton.

For you and I, there are few if any horrific side-effects to those who wear cotton grown using pesticides, though studies show that hazardous pesticides can be detected in cotton clothing. Instead, a brown person who works with pesticides in a far flung country will get it in the neck. And in the chest. And in the bowels. And on the skin. And in the blood.

Pesticide manufacturers and distributors insist they are safe if used with the proper equipment and stored in the recommended way.

“The majority of farmers working with pesticides like endosulfan live in one room huts with their families. In that one room, the family eats, sleeps, lives,” explains Pesticide Action Network’s Damien Sanfilippo. “Everything is stored close together and it is not uncommon to see pesticide bottles next to food. Furthermore, the bottles carry a financial value. Empty bottles are sold in markets for one euro and people use them to store things like water and cooking oil. They’ve not been properly cleaned and cross contamination is common.”

Up to 99% of the world’s cotton growers live and work in the developing world. Cotton is grown as a smallholder crop by the rural poor and few can afford the protective chemical suits pesticide manufacturers say should be used with their products. Even if a suit is acquired, working for ten hours in a field in 40-degree heat and humidity in what is effectively a plastic bag doesn’t make for a happy farmer.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 – 5 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year. Of that, 20,000 agricultural workers die and over a million require hospitalisation. Over 200,000 commit suicide.

Other culprits in the pesticide family include monocotophos and deltamethrin. Disgustingly, the former was withdrawn from the US market in 1989 as it can cause paralysis in children, but is still widely used in developing countries. The latter is another nerve agent used in over half the world’s cotton producing countries. Medical analysis in a South African village near cotton farms found traces of deltamethrin in human breast milk.

Organic. A word impregnated by images of armies of yummy mummies mowing prams through Broadway Market. A mot scented by a pale indigo, Cath Kidston prints and Birkenstocks. A bit nouveau hippie, a bit aspirant middle class, a bit Womad. Not what you think of when you want to conjure the sharp, forward angles of high fashion, the slick ambient electro soundtrack of air kisses and champagne. Dahlink.

Your typical £20 t-shirt will earn a non-organic farmer 15p, 9p of which will have to go towards buying pesticides. Going organic and learning how to manage beneficial insects in the field (the ones who kill the insects nasty to cotton crops) will eliminate the need to spend that 9p. These farmers are also encouraged to grow farm system crops that not only help maintain a healthy biodiversity on the farm but offer another means to increase their incomes.

“You can look good and save the world,” insists Pants to Poverty’s Ben Ramsden. Pants to Poverty was set up as part of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. They make underwear. Organic underwear. And have successfully campaigned to get Bayer Crop Sciences, the world’s largest producer of endosulfan, to withdraw the pesticide from international distribution by 2010 in countries where it is still legally available. “The point behind choosing organic cotton is not to take the fun out of fashion. Clothing manufacturers make money because cotton yield increases when farmers go organic. Farmers make money because corporations pay more for their crop. And they’re healthier. It’s win win. And the best part is that the consumer is driving this ethical economy.”

UK consumers spend £23bn per year buying clothes and campaigners say it’s clear that people want organic cotton. Demand currently lies somewhere near £!bn and outstrips supply.

Designers such as Katharine Hamnett have been producing work using ethically and environmentally sourced fibres since the late 1980s. “Conventional cotton kills thousands of people every year and by using organic cotton, I can make clothes without having blood on my hands”.

Hamnett has said that although consumer demand for organic cotton is high, the market is small due to the fashion industry’s apathy and reluctance to change their production process. “The problem is that the fashion industry doesn’t care. I think the industry is more callous than the consumer. And it’s taken me a long time to find anyone interested in manufacturing clothes ethically in organic cotton. They saw it as inconvenient, they’d have to source their supply chain from scratch…. Everyone was going along happily making money without having to make any changes.”

Though there are changes afoot. Howies is a high street firm pushing for total transparency in the fashion market. They acknowledge that it’s good to do organic shirts, “but the dyeing process isn’t so nice…we’re looking to find lower impact ways of doing that.”

Supermarket chains such as Tesco and Marks and Spencers have committed to including organic cotton in their clothing ranges.

“Playing with these major corporations can be seen as a grey area as far as activists are concerned but it is the only way to ensure organic cotton is spread out as much as possible,” says PAN’s Damien Sanfilippo. “Ultimately, the farmer benefits and the environment benefits.”

In a world where 26 million tonnes of cotton is produced, its little wonder why cotton is called “white gold”. Worldwide organic cotton production increased by 152% in 2008 to just under 150k metric tonnes according to an Organic Cotton Farm and Fibre Report released by the Organic Exchange. The question of how best to dye cotton is one that stings organic campaigners in the tail. The use of dyes and their disposal, especially the ones used to make black, is still an issue that needs to be resolved.

But consumers are on message. Fashion designers are on message. Even Tesco is on message. The fashion industry, however, will have to undergo an overhaul and a rethink. If the reams produced organically can be cut and shaped into stylish designs as well as reams produced conventionally and the profits made by going organic outstrip conventional farming, the onus is on the bulk of the fashion world to pull their manicured finger out and make organic the convention.

Despite Bayer’s capitulation to a campaign group featuring a character known as the Panteater, other pesticides are still in use around the world and they still kill. Furthermore it’s bloody stupid to carry on with a method that not only impoverishes and harms communities and the environment if a more financially viable and healthier alternative is available.

Ben’s right. You can look good, and save the world.

UPDATE: A week after this article’s deadline, I received a call from Bayer Crop Science’s Dr Julian Liddle. “We stopped the manufacture of endosulfan because it was no longer financially viable. A more efficient, and safer, alternative has emerged and we are focusing on that.”

Which is?

“Genetically modified cotton.”


This article was originally published in Who’s Jack Magazine, September 2009.


1 Comment

Filed under politics, pop culture, Who's Jack

Using the Holocaust to Sell Double Glazing?

With adverts like this for Israeli telecommunications company cellcom, you might as well be.

Or am I being overly moralistic about this?

The tag line at the end says “After all, we’re what are we all after? Just a bit of fun.”

Activists in the West Bank village of Bi’lin staged their own mock advert where the rest of the wall is being constructed. Instead of a reciprocal kickabout, they were greeted with tear gas.

Leave a comment

Filed under media, politics, pop culture

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Police Shoot Protesters in Tehran

Received this video this morning. Not sure about dates, exact locations, times.

A rough translation:

“it is plastic bullet…he has shot three air shots…they give him
info who to shoot… Palestine…he is shooting to air…oh
bastard, bastard….Mohammad get away (from the window) they are
shooting…(when the soldiers flee) good for you, good for
you…(woman’s voice) bastards, someone help him, bastard…
(people) ya hussein.
(woman) get away, get away (from the balcony)”


Filed under media, politics

Khameni on the Streets?

The other day I spoke with a former colleague based in Tehran. Someone with a knack for getting stupid foreign journalists out of Iran’s more logistical minefields. She’s had to switch phones regularly to avoid having his mobile connection blocked. It’s the first time I’ve spoken to her since election day.

“It’s going to be difficult to report from Iran without jeopardising yourself. Even me. I’m local, I have all the right papers. But I don’t know if someone will come for me tonight. I’m old. I saw this the first time round. It’s not paranoia when you know what’s possible.”
My friend begins to wax lyrical about the days before 1979. The days when a diva known as Googoosh gyrated her way into every man’s fantasy and children had Kanoon illustrating their books and stories.
I’ve heard my friend’s stories before. They sound just as good the twentieth time as they did the first time because I know the sparkle in my friend’s eyes as the wrinkles relax and the stress ebbs away as they recount jaunts and japes.
Foreign media have been pervented from reporting on the streets. Almost all of them are based in Tehran and whoever is left is probably at the Esteglal Hotel. They’ve been instructed to stay in their offices or hotels refreshing websites on crap internet connections, make phone interviews that get cut off mid-way, and watch state television.
I mention that a mutual friend, a British television correspondent, has been ‘invited to leave’ by the Iranian government ahead of Friday prayers.
“That’s because Khameni [the Supreme Leader] will be addressing a crowd at Friday prayers. He’s bussing in people from around the country in a show of force, to build up the numbers.
I honestly can’t say what’ll happen. My daughter comes back late at night from spending the day marching in the streets. My spouse does the same. I fear for them but I’m secretly envious. Hey. Work’s work.”
Work, in this case, is being a journalist’s odd job man. They’re called fixers. They organise everything from filming permissions to interviews with politicians. To doing the odd bit of reporting on the side. They make sure you have a discreet driver, find you contraband alcohol and dope, and might even fix you up with a prostitute. Or they report your activities directly to the authorities who facilitate your speedy and permanent exit from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I ask how Press TV has been doing. Press TV is an English language state-owned news channel. Like Russia Today without correspondents who look like they charge for your time by the hour.
“Press TV…I couldn’t believe my fucking eyes! The guy on the ground at a Mousavi demo was upping the numbers of protestors while the guy in the studio was trying to dumb it down. But he just kept going saying ‘you are not here to see this with your own eyes…there are thousands…it’s incredible’. I mean, I do a bit of reporting for them. I can speak very freely on Press TV. No problems whatsoever.”
For now?
“Yes. For now. If there’s a major crackdown, this could be the last time I could be speaking to you, my friend.”
Broken silence.
“You know the Ministry said I should sue the shit out of [an American television network]. You know [female television correspondent]? I saw that bitch the other day in….”
Dead line.
Dead line.
Busy line.
Dead line.

1 Comment

Filed under media, politics, pop culture

A Protester’s Truth (Dispatch from Iran)

As the rest of the world is discovering, Iran is a rather modern place. With nearly 70% of the population aged under 35, it would be. Men’s hairstyles may have a tad too much hair gel on the go and women may have a liking for bug-eyed sunglasses, but those are regional crimes of fashion to be found from Beirut to Bahrain.
iran demo
The people you see on the streets can be mistaken for the literati, the loathesome middle-class who aspire towards a higher quality brand and matching furniture. Social onanists – those in touch with themselves who doff a patronising hejab at those who never crossed a University’s door.
But they’re not. What you are seeing is Iran. These young angry voices will, in five years’ time, be more mature. Their positions will carry more gravitas. Nobody likes listening to ideas from a smart alec kid, but they will listen to ideas from a considered adult.
Today, the likes of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami will be marching in memoriam to those who’ve died in demonstrations over the past few days. They will be wearing black. And they will be going via a mosque or two.
Doctors will attend rallies, some wearing white coats so as to be easily identifiable to the injured. Two million people are expected to attend the Tehran rally at Imam Khomeni Square.
The Supreme Leader is expected to address crowds at Friday prayers tomorrow. He’s shipping in people from the countryside to swell the numbers a bit.
How big is Tehran? Massive. A population of nearly 8 million and packed with flyovers, motorways, and nearly two dozen Universities. The roads are wide and the cars and motorbikes plentiful. The smack problem is a major issue – heroin and opium use across all ages is on the rise, employment is on the decline. However, female entrance into higher education is steadily progressing.
Protesters may not succeed at this junction. Friends in Iran are suffering activist fatigue. They sleep little and march a lot. How long they can keep this up for is not clear. The Islamic Revolution didn’t come out of a shoot-from-the-hip rage. It was a carefully orchestrated overthrow of another regime seen as morally corrupt and financially shady. This is more reactive, without a clear direction or plan of action beyond what emotion dictates.
Mousavi, the man the world now sees as Iran’s Obama, is as much a part of the establishment as the Guardian Council. He was Prime Minister of Iran when snatch squads ensured Tehran’s Evin prison maintained its fearsome notoriety.
Will things change? Depends on what you expect from the word “change”. An overthrow of the Islamic Republic? No. A capitulation in light of a lot of pissed off people wondering why the guy they voted for wasn’t declared President? Much more likely.
American and British pundits egging on the fall of the Ayatollah will fall flat on their faces. Iran does not want a complete overhaul of its government. A lot of it does work for the people it’s meant to work for. Women aren’t clamouring to chuck off the chador nor are men that desperate to get a drink in. Those who are so inclined can find places to do as they please. Such is the Russian doll that is Iran. You see one image, but inside lie half a dozen more. How much an Iranian chooses to show you is their perogative.
This is what I received in a message from a friend this morning. It is their truth, a protester’s truth.

Just a few things to clear up what Fox, BBC or CNN are saying. They are liars, as Ahmadinejad says.
So check this…right from us…the people, the protesters.
1- Iranian government blocked most community and communication websites
2- Iranian government tries to avoid accepting people’s right to protest and calls us rioters and vandals
3- Iranian government abused the election results
4- Over 40 youth have been killed, beaten, or imprisoned.
5- Iranian national TV is in the hands of the system that prevents people from airing their ideas
6- They make fear and beat people with their militia called Basij and abused the name of the old Basij. They now use Basij for killing intellectuals instead of upholding Islam.
7- Basij and police go to streets at night and destroy public property, blame it on protesters, then beat protesters up in the morning.
8- Ahmadinejad has shown that he doesn’t respect Iran and Iranians by calling 13 million of us “thorny twigs” and “mindless anarchists who can be blown away with a breath”.
9 – During the last protest in Tehran, several policemen were spotted wearing green bands. Green is the colour of this protest. The policemen candidly told these protesters that they are with them.
10 – During the protests, on several occasion, Basiji who attacked peaceful protesters were arrested by police. Sources say although this happened in several place, it can’t quite be called a crackdown. A few cases only!
11 – Several Basiji militiamen were spotted laying down their arms and going home after being asked to interfere with the protestors.
12 – The biggest threat people are facing right now are plainclothesmen. They seem to be everywhere and are targeting people from their homes, etc.
who are not in groups. These men have mostly been linked with Ansar e Hezbollah. They are responsible for beating people up, arresting people, threatening protesters, taking reformists
13 – So far, it’s been confirmed that 15 people in Tehran and 32 people around the country have been killed. Hundreds more have been injured and over 800 have been detained. Among these are dozens of reformists. Most of these arrests have been made by the notorious plainclothesmen mentioned earlier.
14 – During yesterday’s protestss, mullahs and Ayatollahs were spotted joining rallies within Tehran and in several other cities. No one could confirm the mullahs’ status within clerical society, but their numbers have been visible.
15 – In addition to Tehran, protests occured in Ahvaz, Mashad, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Qom.
16 – Pro-Ahmadinejad protesters’ numbers have been greatly exaggerated by the state media in comparison to Mousavi’s supporters. In reality, pro-Ahmadinejad protesters have been identified as either people who work at government offices or people brought in from the countryside to boost the numbers.
17 – After downplaying the protests for days, state-run media finally started to announce news of events more accurately.
18 – Text messaging (SMS) is still down in Iran and internet is extremely slow. People are unable to get satellite channels on their televisions. At the same time, police and plainclothesmen are going door to door taking away people’s satellite dishes.
19 – Mohsen Rezai, one of the candidates, is going to declare his support for a re-election tomorrow. The fourth candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, openly joined yesterday’s rally.
20 – A group of prominent officials at the Ministry of Interior have written a letter to the Guardian Council declaring that they have witnessed widespread irregularities within voting and counting processes during the election. They asked for this matter to be thoroughly investigated.
21 – To date, there no report of the military’s intervention into peaceful protests has been established. Not a single one.
22 – Khatami and Mousavi have both asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate the involvement of plainclothesmen in the violence during protests.
23 – Several eyewitnesses have seen non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbillah flags around the protests. These reports have been fully confirmed and are NOT a rumour spread by Israel.

We are not happy. We distrust media like the BBC. But the government called us followers of the BBC. Lies. Insults for us the people. So we continue to resist and make Ahmadinejad fall on his knees and beg. Until the government has pissed off.

Leave a comment

Filed under media, politics

Why We Protest (A Letter From Iran)

Dissidents. That’s what you want to call them. People who actively challenge an established doctrine, policy, or institution.

Iran is a country where there is no clear black or white, good or evil. Like the chadors, hejabs and jilbabs worn by women, you see one thing, but beneath the veil can be the unexpected.

On the surface, everyone conforms. Under the skin, where the blood flows, the flesh stings and the bone breaks is where you find the heart of Iran.

I’ve been receiving many letters from friends in Iran. Most of which I cannot publish either due to their personal nature or because I like my friends’ heads attached to their necks.

This is a rare letter. One from an Iranian who has discovered the bottomless pits of anger and the swelling of rage. The words are not mine — I’ve cleared up the spelling and punctuation but, otherwise, have left it as is.

Why we protest? Because we see and witnessed that they abused our votes. We witnessed that Stupid Ahmadinejad disrespected us and called us some vandals and some thornytwigs.

Who we are? We are among people who made the votes number from 19 million to 40 million votes.

Now I am sure that this government in Animals government.
They killed university students and beat children and people in streets.
We are not against peace. We are not against Islam. We are against lies. We are against abusing our being.
We are against lies, we are against killer police.
We are against the way police are beating calm people.
I am sure this government is based on lies and this leader is a pig. Is shit.
I am mad and sad.
Fuck Ahmadinejad.
Fuck their security police. Fuck their lie they call law.
I saw these brainwashed Muslims broke my mate’s camera when he filmed them while breaking public environment to say we broke.
Spread the reality.
Ahmadinejad blocked all websites and satellite, blocked mobile access and control every phone call ….
We have nothing too lose when we see they are abusing my being.
This video was filmed on 16 June 2009. It’s an exclusive, if you’re into that sort of thing. I won’t say who filmed it or edited it, but if you like it, let me know and I’ll pass it on.


Filed under media, politics

Turban Warfare (Tehran Street Art pt.2)

My friend is tired. Having spent the day erecting over 400 street pieces throughout Tehran’s concrete, steel, and rage-lined arteries. Having run away from angry men on motorcycles wielding batons towards angry men wearing green and throwing rocks.

The world has been introduced to a new lexicon. The Guardian Council, the Basij, Khomeni, Khameni, Khatami, ValiAsr, Supreme Leader, Ayatollah, Mousavi. We knew about the other guy. The one everyone called Dinner Jacket. We knew about Iran. Or at least we thought we did. Something to do with nukes and Islam and not liking Israel very much. Strange race. Don’t they speak Arabic? No? Farsi? What the fuck’s that it all looks the same. Threatening. Angry. Alien.

The phones are dead. Dying. Or gasping. They’re not good. The internet is equally dodgy but proxy servers are still operating. So, for now, the internet is providing either a vital means of communication or a useful weapon for control.

The Guardian Council is probably eyeing Burma and North Korea enviously. It seems they are trying to emulate their regime cousins by restricting communications and limiting foreign presence.

I received more images and a note from Tehran’s street art Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve been asked not to reprint the discussion.

The text on the top photo reads “Where’s my vote?’




All photographs and artwork are by [REDACTED]. Names and identities have been withheld for the security of those involved.

Should you choose to repost these images, please drop me a line with a comment I can forward to the artist(s) involved.


Filed under art, politics, pop culture