Textile Exchange Talk 'Sector Transformation – Why We Need A Race-To-The-Top' PDF Print E-mail

Textile Exchange (TE) welcomes the work of PAN UK and partners Solidaridad and WWF in creating the recent “Sustainable Cotton Ranking” report. By raising the visibility – and leadership – of major cotton users converting to “more sustainable” cotton, we have the opportunity to create a race-to-the-top.  We think it's important to challenge and inspire the industry to keep advancing. A sustainability journey should incentivize movement along a continuum and recognize progress. We invite others to join us in understanding what that looks like for cotton.

From our work at Textile Exchange we can see that cotton sustainability strategies come in many shapes and sizes, reflecting in part a company's values and vision and in part the stage the company is at on it's sustainability journey. We work with our members at their own pace and in line with their corporate objectives, inspiring and equipping them along the way. While TE has a long-standing and deep connection to the organic cotton movement, we appreciate that most companies will hold a diverse portfolio of “preferred cottons” and that this portfolio is a “work in progress”. Becoming more sustainable takes time and impacts every part of the business. After all, sustainability is a journey - not a destination.


Over the past 5-10 years, we’ve seen a growing awareness of sustainability issues, the pros and cons of genetically modified cotton, increased transparency, and the continued challenges of debt and poverty in some of the world’s least developed cotton producing countries. There has been expansion in the preferred cottons landscape, with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and other programs such as Cleaner Cotton, CottonConnects REEL Cotton, and e3 joining organic cotton and fair trade cotton in the preferred cotton space. Each initiative brings momentum to the movement and it’s important to acknowledge the role of each in helping cotton stakeholders, from farmer to customer, contribute to a continuum of improvement, taking the steps they feel able to and, crucially, advising them on the next steps they should take to get to the next level.


At Textile Exchange we believe we need places where the entire movement can come together and agree upon a shared vision for the future and build a roadmap on how to get there. Here, we work with Forum for the Future and other initiatives and stakeholders on the Cotton 2040 agenda. This is a platform on which to share and build a united front. Our annual Organic Cotton Round Table, held at each of our annual conferences, is another opportunity to gather, forming the “General Assembly” for the organic cotton sector and incubating great ideas for the future. It’s here we are seeing innovative collaborations such as the Organic Cotton Accelerator, and ChetCo (a “buyers club”) spring to life. 


Alongside a shared sector vision, we also think it's important to keep the industry advancing. For this to happen, there should be a clear pathway that shines the light on where to go next.This is where the race-to-the-top comes into play and where the sustainability journey takes us from one level to the next. We invite others to join us in understanding what that looks like for cotton. For us, we see BCI as an incredibly important “on-ramping” for the sector and a critical movement to bring sustainability into the mainstream. We also know (because others have told us) that organic and organic-fairtrade have the potential to get us even closer to having clear, and positive impacts on water, food security and biodiversity. Organic relies on farm-level innovation to eliminate pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs from agriculture and replace them with ecological processes. The model is farmer-centric and brings pricing and conditions of trade into the equation. We think that more work needs to be done to build business models that rewards farmers stewardship of our future and provides a return on their investment.


Bottom-line - sustainability is everybody’s business and needs to be built on committed trading relationships, shared value, and a constant reminder that human lives are behind the “white gold” we are all so passionate about. The Sustainable Cotton Ranking Report is a tool to bring more sustainable cotton into the forefront of our cotton strategies. We challenge the industry (TE included) to go even further and drive the race-to-the-top to the next evolution!

Photo Credits: Christine Altenbuchner and Textile Exchange

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