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Published on Tuesday, 05 April 2016

Most sustainable cotton, "sold as conventional cotton"

Written by John Mowbray

AMSTERDAM – A new research briefing on cotton says that 83 per cent of sustainable cotton gets no recognition and is actually sold into the conventional cotton market. This new research by three leading NGO's suggests there is a significant gap between the production of sustainable cottons and uptake by retailers and apparel brands.

“Cotton is facing an uncertain future,” according to new research commissioned by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) UK, Solidaridad and WWF. The three NGO’s make this claim in a new briefing, which covers organic, BCI, CmiA and Fairtrade cotton, and addresses the gap between production (growing) and market uptake (growing, albeit much more slowly).

“While production of more sustainable cotton has never been higher, and was projected to account for 13 per cent of global cotton supply for 2015, company buying (‘uptake’) is lagging behind,” says the report. “Despite at least 12 global companies committing to source 100 per cent more sustainable cotton, only 17 per cent of all sustainable cotton is sold as such. The remaining 83 per cent gets no recognition and is sold as conventional cotton.”

Data on actual (sustainable) cotton production in 2015 is not yet available.

“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.”

The production of sustainable cotton is at an all-time high, having passed 2 million tonnes in 2013/14 and projected to be 13 per cent of total cotton production in 2015. The problem however lies in, “...translating commitments into reality ...the gap between uptake and supply is widening as production grows faster than demand,” say the authors.

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.

The full briefing ‘Mind the Gap: Towards a More Sustainable Cotton Market’ can be downloaded via this link: www.solidaridadnetwork.org/publications/mind-the-gap-towards-a-more-sustainable-cotton-market.


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