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Food Fraud and Counterfeit Cotton

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Food Fraud and Counterfeit Cotton

The Detectives Untangling the Global Supply Chain

The Guardian,

5 min read
6 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Amid supply chain upheaval, element analysis can verify the origins of raw materials. 

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


Labels don’t always accurately reflect a product’s composition. Samanth Subramanian explains in The Guardian that the complexity of the modern supply chain presents manufacturers with tremendous challenges in avoiding fraud and determining the origins of their raw materials. New Zealand-based Oritain helps companies trace raw materials back to their sources by identifying elements in their home environment. Subramanian offers an in-depth portrait of the company and its pioneering detective work.


Although the label on Welspun’s cotton sheets said they contained cotton from Egypt, they did not.

Welspun, a US-based textile company, supplies cotton sheets labeled “100% Egyptian cotton” to large retailers, including Target and Walmart. In 2016, a Target internal investigation revealed that about 750,000 of Welspun’s sheets and pillowcases were made of inferior cotton from India.

Walmart severed ties with the supplier following a customer lawsuit over the sheets. The scandal cost Welspun, which at the time was making 45 million meters of cotton sheets a year (more than enough to circle the planet), a loss of $700 million in market value.

Complex supply chains make it more difficult for companies to manage every step in sourcing raw materials.

Welspun’s representatives say it did not know the cotton in its sheets wasn’t from Egypt. Either by accident or on purpose, a supplier must have mislabeled the cotton yarn it bought for Welspun. The cotton supply chain is highly complex. Each processing stage – from cleaning harvested cotton to making the final product – takes place in a different country and sometimes on a different...

About the Author

Author Samanth Subramanian contributes regularly to The Guardian.

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