Author: Oli Busk
Type: Undergraduate coursework, University of Exeter, UK.
Availability: in full, below.
Full reference: Busk, O. (2009) £20 banknote. followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/banknote.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)
‘You have got to be f*%king kidding’. A £100 parking ticket. ‘What the f*%k is wrong with this country?!’ I shouted at my car, followed by a kick and then a hopeless whimper. Why was I so upset? Was it the prospect of forking out £100 to some unknown person in return for f*%k all? Probably. I need that money to live, but food, water ... cigarettes. I can’t live without it. We all need money. We are born, we work, we die. C’est la vie. Money is an essential part of life.
When I pop to an ATM, my Maestro card + 3**9 = cash. Simple. I do this daily. It’s a habit. I never stop and think about it. I’ve never thought about the materiality of the cash. Hold up a £20 note: read the words, the numbers, look at the pictures. Why does it feel different to the paper you’re read from? It’s cotton paper (Bank of England nd link).
‘I was wondering where you source your cotton from?’. ‘I am not able to divulge that information, Sir. Goodbye’. ‘I am not a journal... BEEEEP.’ The De La Rue Group manufactures banknotes for the UK and sells them to the Bank of England (Bank of England nd link). They are circulated and now in my possession. What have the De La Rue Group got to hide? Their website certainly stresses ‘corporate responsibility’ (De La Rue nd link) or ‘b*l@s±&t’ for short. The truth is cotton farming is a thorny issue.
‘Zafar, a Khujand University student, tells RFE/RL’s Tajik service that “students are threatened by the university to go to the cotton farms - facing expulsion of we refuse”’ (Najibullah 2008 link). In Uzbekistan, the second largest cotton producer, students and children are forced to pick cotton (ibid.). It is estimated that 200,000 children as young as 7 are conscripted to the Ferghana region each year (EJF 2005). Working 11 hour days, no running water, no electricity and getting paid US$6.53 per month (ibid.). No wonder Tesco and Debenhams have boycotted Uzbek cotton (EJF 2008 link). The cotton in our banknotes has got to come from somewhere. The cotton is harvested, pulped, turned to paper (Berlow nd link). Printed as cash and sold to the Bank of England.
The truth is we need money, we can’t boycott it so we rely on organisations with acronyms to sort this out. People need to realise that money doesn’t grown on trees and that commodities like cash have history. People need to consider the unseen others that produce the cash in our pockets. When I look through the watermark the Queen is blocking my view. I can’t see the children that pick this cotton and they can’t see me.
This coursework was handed in typed out on normal printer paper, with the annotated £20 note pictured above stapled to it.
Bank of England (nd) Banknote production. bankofengland.co.uk (www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/about/production.htm last accessed 1 March 2011)
Berlow (nd) Paper. How products are made (www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Paper.html last accessed 1 March 2011)
De La Rue (nd) Corporate responsibility. delarue.com (www.delarue.com/CorporateResponsibi/ last accessed 1 March 2011)
EJF (2005) White gold, the true cost of cotton: Uzbekistan, cotton and the crushing of a nation. London: Environmental Justice Foundation (www.ejfoundation.org/pdf/white_gold_the_true_cost_of_cotton.pdf last accessed 1 March 2011)
EJF (2008) Tesco to ban Uzbek cotton in response to child labour abuses. Environmental Justice Foundation press release 15 January (www.ejfoundation.org/page483.html last accessed 1 March 2011)
Najibullah, F. (2008) Labor violations remain rife In Uzbek cotton fields. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 9 October (www.rferl.org/content/Labor_Violations_Remain_Rife_In_Uzbek_Cotton_Fields/1328461.html last accessed 1 March 2011)
Summers, C. (2011) How did Libyan money come to be printed in Britain? BBC News, 2 September (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14746873 last accessed 2 September 2011)
Edited by Ian Cook, with thanks to Shaun French (last updated September 2011). Page created for followthethings.com as coursework for the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module, Exeter University. Reproduced with kind permission of the author.