Are your clothes helping to fund Islamic State?

Since September last year, Islamic State militants have gained control over the Syrian cotton production, which could mean that the clothes you buy can indirectly benefit ISIS. 

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According to Agence France-Presse, after seizing oil and grain fields to fund their offensive, IS jihadists have also taken control of “three-quarters of the production of cotton” in Syria, which was a relatively important exporter before the war, said Jean-Charles Brisard, a specialist on the financing of extremist groups. Though it most likely will not affect the vast majority of clothes-buyers, ISIS-grown cotton has become an issue for the high-end fashion houses in Paris, France. A buyer for haute couture collections at a top label said on condition of anonymity that they have become very vigilant over the origin of their fabrics. The risk is that ISIS produced cotton could make its way to international markets via Turkish wholesalers, who buy it at discount prices from the Islamic State. Turkey is the EU’s number two supplier of fabric and third for clothes, according to data from the Union des Industries Textiles(UIT), a French textile trade association. 

Officially, Turkey is blocking the raw cotton from the fields of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, two regions under ISIS control. but it seems Islamic State militants may have found a way around the block by selling the cotton to intermediaries, who transport it to processing centres located in areas under the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This means ISIS-produced raw cotton may have ended up in the state-run cotton industry for export.

Due to the four-year-long conflict the situation in Syria is very fluid and it is difficult to have a precise picture of how the cotton trading is done, said Jose Sette, executive director of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), a group that brings together cotton producing and consuming countries. But any Syrian cotton that is making its way to Turkey is probably going through unofficial channels, he said. Sette played down the impact of illicit Syrian cotton making its way into Turkey, saying that even if all of Syria’s cotton production made its way to Turkey, it would only represent about five percent of the cotton used. The luxury and sporting clothing group Kering, whose labels include Gucci, Puma, and Saint Laurent, echoed the sentiment, saying it was not particularly concerned about buying conflict cotton.

Though it is unlikely that you would be buying conflict cotton-supported clothes, it would still be wise to be wary of where the cotton in your clothes comes from, or you might be in for a shock.

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