After photographing social inequality in his native Slovenia and internationally, Jost Franko has concluded that “profit over people” is the ideology that propels some of the world’s most profitable businesses. With his latest project, “Cotton Black, Cotton Blue,” he examined a global industry that from plantation to factory can be merciless and grueling for its workforce, which can even include children.
“Cotton has a really dark history, which seems like it never stopped,” he said.
Teaming up with journalist and photographer Meta Krese, and supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Mr. Franko spent about a year researching the cotton trade before traveling the globe to examine the industry’s various facets. What emerged, he said, was a story of exploitation, where the quest of corporations to find cheaper production in the globalized economy obscures the human cost. The project’s title, he said, was a nod to the burdens carried by both farmers and workers.
“It was really important to show the whole supply chain from scratch,” he said. “Everyone kind of knows what’s happening in Bangladesh and where clothes come from, but nobody really understands the first part of the supply chain. So we kind of wanted to connect the dots.”
The pair first went to the fields of Burkina Faso, where cotton is handpicked by people earning subsistence wages and who are competing against the United States, which has heavy machinery and farming supported by government subsidies. The next leg of the journey took them to Bangladesh, one of the world’s top garment exporters. The country has made…