A documentary aimed at highlighting the human and environmental costs created by the global apparel industry, and factors for change, has been launched.

'True Cost', to be released by the Fairtrade Foundation on 29 March, warns of a "need to change the way we view fashion and reconnect with the many people who work to bring us our clothes". This, it says, starts with the cotton farmers who "pay the real price".

The Fairtrade Foundation uses the documentary to highlight how over 60% of the world’s cotton is produced by an estimated 100m smallholder farmers. Of these, 90% are in developing countries and grow cotton on less than five hectares of land, and are some of the poorest in the world. Additionally, up to 300m people work in the cotton sector when family labour, farm labour and workers in ancillary services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage are taken into account.

For farmers, the Foundation says the challenges range from the impact of poor prices for seed cotton, climate change, through to competition from highly subsidised producers in the US and China and poor terms of trade.

Subindu Garkhel, cotton manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "It’s tragic that one of the unseen impacts of fashion today is that cotton is failing to provide a living income for millions of small-scale farmers. Fashion for a bargain – that’s what everyone wants. But a bargain comes at a price.

"The fact that prices continue to fall in the UK should be a wake-up call for shoppers: farmers and workers are paying the price of our high street bargains. Unless consumers and business are prepared to pay the true cost of our clothes, poverty will continue."

The organisation said it launched Fairtrade cotton "to put the spotlight on" such farmers who it says are often left "invisible, neglected and poor" at the end of a long and complex cotton supply chain.

Tools such as the Fairtrade Minimum Price, and an additional Fairtrade Premium, have provided farmers with an alternative route to trade and higher, more stable incomes, the organisation said.

In addition to a limited theatrical global release on 29 May, True Cost will be available to purchase on VOD (iTunes, Amazon, VHX), DVD and Blu Ray.