Cotton is a commodity many of us take for granted without realising that the chain which brings it into our homes is often tainted with abuse.

Each and every individual plays a role in improving this negative chain and the living standards of workers in developing countries. Of course, before this can be achieved, people need to be made aware of the dark reality behind the cotton chain.

Fair Play is a board game that seeks to raise awareness of the injustices that lie behind the production of cotton and the just alternatives that exist to this daily commodity.

It was created as part of Playing Fair Alternatives, a project coordinated by Italian cooperative Pangea-Niente Troppo with the collaboration of international organisations including Maltese partner Koperattiva Kummerċ Ġust. The game has been translated into Maltese as well as Italian, Czech, Greek and Portuguese.

Nathalie Grima, the project coordinator for Malta, explained that the objective of the game is for players to create a fair and sustainable production line of cotton by exchanging cards and points.

In sync with the message of the game, it comes packaged in cotton bags made by fair trade producers in Bangladesh and the instructions, which also contain information about fair trade and cotton, are printed on recycled paper.

Fair Play can be played by between two and six players aged over 14. It consists of a board showing a map of the world and the stations where to place two decks of cards. These are production line cards, representing the various stages in the cotton line, and market cards that give instructions to players. Each player is supplied with an individual board showing a six-step production line that takes the player from sowing the cotton seeds to weaving, dying and packaging it, its wholesale and arrival in developed countries' markets.

During each of the six steps there are negative elements of abuse of both human rights and the environment. These include child labour, exploitation of women, use of dangerous chemicals and cheap wholesale prices.

By picking production line cards, the player's role is to change this negative production line, characterised by black points, to a positive one characterised by green points. Green points are therefore brought about by positive conditions such as use of natural pesticides, organic bleach, woman's rights cooperatives and fair prices.

When the green points finish, the player who manages to create the best production line (and has more green than black points) wins. The catch is that, if all the black points are handed out, the game ends there and everyone loses. At this point, the amount of green points are irrelevant and everyone suffers the negative impact of an unbalanced production line.

"So, throughout the game, each player must also keep in mind other players' production lines to ensure that resources are not wasted - or the game would have to end," Ms Grima explained as she explained that the game instilled an element of cooperation with other players.

She has seen adults as well as children try out Fair Play and, while they took some time to get used to it, with every round they played they became more and more interested in the game.

The Playing Fair project kicked off in June 2006 and will run until May this year aiming to raise awareness of the public and educators on issues related to the interdependence between developed and developing countries and fair trade. The project was 75 per cent funded by the EU.

Apart from the board game, the project also involved the production and distribution of Ekwopedja, a book aimed to help educators learn more about fair trade.

Fair Play costs €20 and can be purchased from L-Arka in Valletta or Merlin Library in Blata l-Bajda.

The cotton trade

The economies of some of the world's poorest countries are dependent upon cotton. Two-thirds of the world's cotton is produced in developing countries, 100 million rural households are involved in cotton production and 40 per cent of West Africa's exports consist of cotton.

But the price that farmers in developing countries receive for their high-quality cotton is driven down by northern subsidies and competition from synthetic fibres.

Subsidised cotton production in the US, the EU and China causes overproduction, which leads to dumping of cheap cotton, the fall of real cotton prices and, ultimately, impoverished livelihoods and eroded economies in developing countries. In 2005, Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) developed Fairtrade Standards for cotton. These standards see that producers are small family farms forming part of in organisations, the minimum guaranteed price is paid directly to the producer organisations, environmental standards restrict the use of agrochemicals and encourage sustainability and no forced labour or child labour is used. ,

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