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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005, 11:44 GMT
The dollar a day dress - a guide
more about cotton from malimore about silk from cambodiamore about cotton from Ugandamopre about Alpaca wool from Peru

In the year that Britain chairs the G8 and tries to prompt the world into action on poverty, Panorama travelled from the Sahara to the Andes to create the Dollar a Day Dress - a symbol of the plight of millions who live on a dollar a day.

Working with Comic Relief and a group of the top fashion students from the London College of Fashion, reporter Steve Bradshaw collected a range of fabrics from around the world - the story behind each showing how the world trade system can harm the poor.

Many believe the best way to help poor countries is to wean them off Western aid and ensure a free and liberal world trade system. Panorama investigates some of the harsh truths about free trade and its effect on the developing world, and asks: without a level playing field, can unregulated free trade do more harm as well as more good?

In Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, farmers were encouraged to grow cotton. But as cotton prices on the world market drops, they face what critics call unfair competition from heavily subsidised US cotton farmers. The West gives fifty billion dollars every year in aid but over three hundred billion dollars in subsidies to its own farmers.

Click to see more images from Panorama's travels through Mali in search of its famous blue cotton

Increasingly impoverished, Malian farmers are now at the centre of one of the world's biggest trade rows. The World Trade Organisation has ruled US subsidies illegal and a clear breach of the West's commitment to free trade but the US yet to change them.

Meantime the famous blue robes of nomads in Timbuktu are no longer made from Malian cotton - instead most Tuareg use cotton textiles manufactured in China.

In Uganda, most people wear second-hand clothes originally donated by rich countries, but the trade ruins the chances of growth for the local textile industry, making it far harder than it should be for it to recover from the ravages of the Idi Amin days.

Some Africans call them "dead white men's clothes" - believing few people would willingly throw such stuff away. Until they can phase out cast offs, their own industry will never provide the jobs and economic growth Uganda needs.

The Prime Minister of Uganda says the government is facing a dilemma - it believes in free trade but it's hard for a country like Uganda to compete on a level playing field.

In Peru, farmers face the loss of the country's most valuable resource, as the quality and price of wool from the famed Andean alpaca suffers from poor breeding methods. The animals' wool is one of the world's most luxurious and expensive fabrics.

See more from Panorama's time in Peru finding out about the alpaca farmers

Yet Peruvian alpaca farmers are some of the poorest people in the world, as the quality and price of wool from their alpacas nose dives due to poor breeding methods.

Meanwhile developed countries have imported some of the cream of Peru's genetic stock, breeding selectively to produce finer wool. Unable to compete, Peruvian farmers face a bleak future unless action is taken - for example by rich countries sharing their breeding technology.

In Cambodia, one in five people depends on the garment industry for their livelihood, making clothes for Western high street shops. The 250,000 workers (largely women) earn good wages and say they work in good conditions. The factories are monitored by the International Labour Organisation, and supported by Cambodia's new labour unions.

The garment factories blossomed after Cambodia signed up to a global quota system obliging rich nations to buy from countries with high labour standards. But in January 2005 those the regulations ended, leaving Cambodia's industry in competition with China - where workers' wages and rights remain unprotected.

The only chance of success for Cambodia is to market its labour standards to companies keen to protect their brand name. But will they successfully create a niche market, providing big companies with a unique selling point, or will they fall victim to what some are calling "a race to the bottom" over labour standards?

Free trade, after a fashion
04 Mar 05 |  Panorama
The dollar a day dress
06 Mar 05 |  Panorama
Your comments
06 Mar 05 |  Panorama
Country profile: Mali
24 Feb 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Uganda
20 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Peru
04 Feb 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Cambodia
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Timbuktu - city of legends
15 Apr 02 |  Africa
Arrests at Kenyan trade meeting
03 Mar 05 |  Africa
Blair sets date for Africa report
24 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
UK writing off poor nations' debt
26 Sep 04 |  UK Politics


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