Retailers must buy more sustainable cotton say NGOs PDF Print E-mail

The uptake of sustainable cotton by brands and retailers is lagging behind production and threatening the future of the sustainable cotton market according to new research commissioned by PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF. A range of initiatives have worked hard to increase the supply of more sustainable cotton, but retailers are not keeping up - many still have no targets to source more ethical cotton.
While production of more sustainable cotton has never been higher, and is projected* to account for 13% for global supply for 2015, company buying (‘uptake’) is lagging behind. Despite at least 12 global companies committing to source 100% more sustainable cotton, only 17% of all sustainable cotton is sold as such. The remaining 83% gets no recognition and is sold as conventional cotton.

“Lots of sustainable cotton is available but frustratingly it is not being sourced and bought as such”, said Isabelle Roger, Global Cotton Programme Manager at Solidaridad. “International clothing brands and retailers have a crucial role to play. Without much larger orders from retailers, there is a risk that farmers will abandon sustainable growing practices, the opportunity to transform the cotton market will be lost, and negative effects on people and nature will persist.”

“Buying more sustainable cotton has never been easier”, said Richard Holland, Director, WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative. “Leading companies like IKEA and H&M are showing it's possible to use 100% more sustainable cotton in their products within a couple of years.”

“Cotton needs cleaning up. Conventional production requires the use of large amounts of water and pesticides. Sourcing more sustainable cotton is the best way forward”, said Keith Tyrell, Director at Pesticide Action Network UK.

Cotton is grown in around 80 countries worldwide and is a key raw material for the textile industry, accounting for around 32% of all fibres used. Sustainability issues include the widespread use of pesticides, with 6.2% of global pesticide sales associated with cotton production, and intensive water use, with 73% of global production currently dependent on irrigation.

A number of sustainable cotton standards have been developed in the last 30 years, starting with Organic cotton in the 1980s, followed by Fairtrade in 2004, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) in 2005 and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in 2009. All provide guidance and support for farmers and seek to reassure consumers and retailers that the products they buy are being produced using sustainable farming methods.
While many cotton farmers are driven into debt by the cost of pesticides and fertilisers, sustainable cotton production has the potential to lift farmers out of poverty by providing a more stable income and improving working conditions.

PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF have commissioned further research to assess and compare global textile companies’ policies and purchase of more sustainable cotton with first results of a benchmark undertaken in partnership with Rank a Brand expected in June 2016. All three organisations are calling on major brands and retailers to make and realise commitments to sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020 or sooner.

You can read the report here
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