With a strong focus on people and communities, many consumers don’t realize that environmental issues are key components to social sustainability. In fact, environmental issues often go hand-in-hand with social issues.

Pesticides have been linked to soil and water contamination, soil erosion, biodiversity issues, and climate change, but the cost to human health is often overlooked.

It is estimated that between one and three percent of agricultural workers worldwide (25 to 77 million workers) suffer from acute pesticide poisoning, with at least one million requiring hospitalization every year.

Additionally, the use of pesticides often affects people living in communities bordering farms.

Health risks associated with pesticide use include birth defects, cognitive impairment, brain cancer, autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorder, and hormone disruption.

According to Health Canada, children may also be more susceptible to these chemicals, which they can be exposed to through minute residues on fruits and vegetables or residues in breast milk or formula.

For farmers using pesticides in developing countries, many aren’t able to take the proper precautions due to issues of illiteracy or lack of resources. Many farmers can’t read the safety labels and are not trained in their proper use. Others can’t afford proper safety equipment, much of which isn’t practical in hot and humid climates.

Fair Trade certification ensures that farms avoid work-related injuries by following the correct health and safety measures, such as avoiding pesticides where possible, and using minimal amounts with proper precautions where necessary.

Fair Trade certification also requires proper waste management, water and soil maintenance, and the avoidance of genetically modified organisms. Farmers who abide by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) environmental and safety standards receive premium rates for their products.

These practices ensure both the protection of the environment and the health of workers and local communities. Additionally, we can be assured as consumers that the products we buy will not pose health risks to us or our children. As a society, we are slowly realizing that protecting the health and rights of others also protects ourselves.


Cotton offers the most startling example of the widespread use of chemicals on crops that are used in everyday consumer products. The cotton industry uses $2 billion worth of chemical pesticides every year, accounting for 16 percent (more than any other single crop) of global insecticide use. Of this amount, $819 million is spent on products that have been classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.

Children and adolescents with little to no literacy levels are sometimes used as casual daily workers for tea production in developing countries, and they are often unable to read

the warning labels on chemicals such as Aldrin 20E, Carbofuran 30, Endosulfan 35 EC, Malathion 50 EC, Tetradifon 8 EC, and Calixin 80 EC. Furthermore, plantation owners may not abide by the mandatory eight to 10 day gap between spraying crops and harvesting them. Not only does this endanger workers, but it also poisons the soil and water, destroying fish and aquatic life and contaminating drinking water for the local population.

In West Africa and Latin America, banana bunches still hanging from trees are wrapped in plastic coated with the organophosphate Chlorpyrifos. A recent study 

Environmental Justice Foundation. “The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton.” (2007)

Environmental Justice Foundation. “The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton.” (2007)

The Tea Market: A Background Study” Oxfam. (2002) p. 39. Retrieved from:

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