The pledge was the result of a high level meeting attended by HRH The Prince of Wales and organised by The Prince’s International Sustainability Unit (ISU) in collaboration with Marks & Spencer and The Soil Association. The thirteen companies that have signed the sustainable cotton communiqué are: ASOS, EILEEN FISHER, Greenfibres, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi Strauss & Co., Lindex, M&S, Nike, Sainsbury’s, F&F at Tesco and Woolworths Holdings. Together these companies use in excess of 300,000 tonnes of cotton annually.
Today’s meeting was attended by a number of high level representatives from the companies that have signed up to the communiqué, as well as senior representatives from non-governmental organisations and standards agencies, including The Soil Association, Fairtrade Foundation, The Better Cotton Initiative, Cotton Made in Africa and CottonConnect. Civil Society was represented by Textile Exchange, Cotton 2040 (an initiative convened by Forum for the Future) and The Pesticide Action Network.
Cotton is the most abundantly produced natural fibre and its production supports the livelihoods of over 350 million people . Despite its global importance, cotton production is beset by a number of environmental and social challenges that undermine the sustainability of the sector as a whole. Whilst cotton only covers 2.4% of the world’s arable land, it accounts for 6% of global pesticide use . With around 2,720 litres of water needed to make just one t-shirt, cotton production is highly dependent on water, and artificially irrigated areas can deplete local water sources . Higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns caused by climate change are likely to cause severe water shortages in some areas, as well as increase the prevalence of pests and diseases, and in turn negatively affect yields. The challenges of the cotton sector are also social and economic, with cotton farmers and their dependents negatively impacted by the over-use of pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers, and rising costs of production and volatile market prices.
It is clear that significant change is needed in order to reduce the environmental and social impacts that are all too often associated with cotton production, and to ensure the viability of the sector as a whole. Many companies that use cotton are already working alongside the various standards agencies and NGOs to increase productivity, reduce the use of harmful pesticides and improve the livelihoods of farmers. As a result of this work there have been substantial gains made over the past few years in scaling the production of more sustainable forms of cotton, which is now higher than ever at over 3 million tonnes in 2016. However, companies are actively sourcing less than a fifth of this available sustainable cotton.
If sustainable cotton is to become the norm, and the environmental and social costs associated with its production reduced, the amount of sustainable cotton grown and bought needs to increase significantly. The pledge made today demonstrates that there is a demand for sustainable cotton, and the actions taken by companies as a result of the pledge will hopefully drive the greater adoption of sustainable practices across the sector.
The companies that pledged their support today are at various stages on their journey to using sustainable cotton, with some just beginning and others already securing all of their cotton from sustainable sources. However, these companies recognise that sustainability across the cotton sector cannot be achieved by a few companies alone, and that collaboration across the sector is needed to bring about transformative change.
Quotes from companies and NGO representatives:
“The Soil Association warmly welcomes the commitment of these companies to move to 100% sourcing of sustainable cotton by 2025. This is a significant moment and a demanding commitment to achieve using existing standards – organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and certified recycled cotton.” Lord Peter Melchett, The Soil Association
“At Kering we are focused on building more robust and responsible supply chains and sourcing raw materials more sustainably is a key element of our 2025 sustainability strategy for our luxury brands. Working together with other companies who are also committed to using 100% sustainable cotton will help create a strong market signal to improve the methods for cotton cultivation and contribute to reducing the overall impact of the sector.” Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs, Kering,
“We know that cotton is the most resource-intensive stage in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans. We’re focused on partnering with others in the industry to reduce that impact and protect the future of our planet. We’re proud to join this group as part of the global effort to build an even more sustainable cotton sector.” Liz O’Neill, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer, Levi Strauss & Co.
“Cotton is used in many IKEA products – from sofas and cushions to bed sheets and curtains. From September 1, 2015, all cotton in our products comes from more sustainable sources. IKEA want to change the Textile industry for good. We have been working to improve standards in the cotton supply chain for over ten years. Today, we are really seeing results, where cotton production gets better for people, the environment and business at no extra cost to the customer. Our vision is to create a better everyday life for many people and we will continue to be close to farmers, supply chain partners and consumers as well as to learn and share with other retailers so we can work together for scaling the use of sustainable cotton and a better textile industry.” Petra Färe, Business Area Manager, Textiles, IKEA
“ASOS’ support for the Sustainable Cotton Communique is further evidence of our commitment to sourcing more sustainable cotton and working with industry colleagues to send a positive call-to-action message to the rest of the sector.” Simon Platts, Sourcing Director, ASOS
“At Eileen Fisher Inc., we say we grow clothes. It’s a reminder of our impact on farmers and the land needed to grow fibers. When an industry comes together and commits to sustainable cotton, it translates to more fertile soil, cleaner water and a healthier environment for farm communities. Thank you to HRH the Prince of Wales for raising awareness of this issue and his long-term support for sustainable agriculture.” Shona Quinn, Sustainability Leader at Eileen Fisher, Inc