More sustainable cotton Leading the way in more sustainable cotton

When it comes to sourcing more sustainable cotton, we are acting for our customers to normalise better practices across the cotton industry and show that 100% more sustainable cotton is possible. And we're making good progress. Our 2020 goal is for 100% of the cotton we use to be more sustainable. In 2016, 53% of the cotton we sold met this standard.

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Certified organic cotton is the most sustainable option and C&A was named the world’s leading buyer in 2016 where 33% of the cotton we sold was organic. When it goes into our collections we never blend organic cotton with non-organic cotton, and we make sure the organic cotton we use is certified to third-party standards (Organic Content Standard (OSC) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)).

In 2015 we switched from the bespoke more sustainable cotton programme, REEL (led by CottonConnect) and migrated over to the leading industry-wide Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the environment and the people who produce it. By taking a holistic approach, Better Cotton is designed to increase the adoption of better farming practices and transform the industry. Better Cotton farmers are trained and supported to: use water efficiently, care for the health of soil and natural habitats, reduce the use of harmful chemicals and promote decent work. BCI’s goal is that a third of all cotton grown globally, will be grown as Better Cotton by 2020.

Certified Organic Cotton

Better Cotton Initiative Cotton

Why focus on cotton?

Cotton is used by nearly everyone, every day, and supports 250 million people’s livelihoods [SOURCE: BCI]. It’s the material we use most. Cotton is in 56% of our clothing, so it’s where we can have the biggest impact.

Yet, only 1% of the world’s cotton is organic. Organic cotton is better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the future of the industry. The Better Cotton Initiative exists to make cotton that is grown in a socially and environmentally responsible way more widely available. 

In comparison, conventional cotton farming and production processes have a much bigger impact:

  • Water use: A regular cotton T-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water [SOURCE: WWF] to make, most of which is needed to grow the cotton. Cotton grown organically needs 91% less freshwater than when grown conventionally [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].
  • Pesticide use: Conventional cotton uses around 7% of all the pesticides and 16% of all insecticides applied globally in agriculture [Source:  ICAC Expert Panel on Social, Environmental and Economic Performance (SEEP): Pesticides used in cotton production in Australia, Brazil, India, Turkey and the US, 2010]. This poses risks to the environment and to farmers’ health. Organic cotton eliminates the application of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.
  • Carbon emissions: Organic cotton produces carbon emissions that are 46% lower than conventional cotton [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].
  • Labour issues: Forced and bonded labour is a key challenge in the cotton industry. Better Cotton has a strong focus on better working standards, covering freedom of association, non-discrimination, child labour and forced labour or health and safety [SOURCE: BCI].
  • Supply issues: Despite growing demand for organic cotton, farmers are moving away from cotton and towards more profitable crops such as tobacco, soybeans or pulses, due to plunging cotton prices and difficulties with access to quality seeds [SOURCE: OCA].

Read more about certified organic cotton

Read more about BCI cotton

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Our 2016 actions

Work towards our 2020 goal for 100% of our cotton to be more sustainable.

Implement our redefined cotton strategy and accelerate Better Cotton uptake.

Our 2016 performance

Progress towards our 2020 goal

Our use of more sustainable cotton has improved, with 53% used across the business in 2016, up from 40% last year. With our 2020 goal in mind, we have ramped up our efforts to increase the momentum needed to meet it. In 2017, we will focus on closing the gap to 100% by engaging with our whole cotton supply chain, including those who may be harder to reach but are no less important when it comes to achieving our target and creating change across the sector.

Organic and more sustainable cotton (REEL & Better Cotton) as a % share of total cotton sourced

One of the largest purchasers of sustainable cotton

C&A was named the largest buyer of organic cotton in the world for the fourth time [SOURCE: Textile Exchange's Organic Cotton Market Report 2016]. We were also ranked 2nd in a new sustainable cotton report commissioned by WWF, Solidaridad and Pesticide Action Network UK [SOURCE: Sustainable Cotton Ranking Report, 2017]. The research covers 37 fashion brands to assess their performance on sustainable cotton. After IKEA, C&A shares second place with H&M.

Transition to the Better Cotton Initiative

2016 has marked a fast and comprehensive transition to the Better Cotton Initiative. In just over a year, more than 20% of the volume of our cotton was sourced as Better Cotton and we were identified as the sixth largest buyer of Better Cotton globally. 

Membership of the BCI Growth and Innovation Fund

As well as driving demand for Better Cotton through procurement, we also want to be a part of its future. We are part of the BCI Growth and Innovation Fund, which seeks to train over five million farmers to join the Better Cotton Initiative by 2020. This will support increasing supply and speed up implementation.

Read more about Better Cotton

Tackling climate change 

Organic cotton reduces the global warming potential of cotton production by 46% [SOURCE: Textile Exchange: The Life Cycle Assessment of Organic Cotton Fiber - A Global Average Summary Of Findings, 2014] and is therefore a key component in our climate change strategy. 

Read more about our action on carbon and climate change here

Developing a guide to reducing the water footprint of cotton cultivation in India

In 2015, we worked with C&A Foundation and the Water Footprint Network (WFN), with support from CottonConnect, to better understand the water footprint and other impacts of organic, REEL and conventional cotton. The study looked at differences in agricultural practices and technologies and their relative impacts on water use and water pollution. In 2016, WFN helped us develop a guide to reducing the water footprint of cotton cultivation in India to help embed better water management practices in cotton farming across the country.

The guide can be downloaded here

The guide has been developed in conjunction with further training materials to engage farmers on how-to reduce the water use in cotton farming, also available here

Who we’re working with

Who we’re working with

Making more sustainable cotton the norm

Our journey to more sustainable cotton started more than 10 years ago. No longer simply a sustainability initiative, it’s a cross-functional effort, embedded in our day-to-day activities. Driven by targets, owned by the business and reported on at the highest level, it is the cornerstone goal for C&A. Our efforts reach beyond our operations: we seek to improve cotton agriculture, the lives of farmers and the environment. We are doing this by increasing global demand for organic cotton and Better Cotton, as well as building capacity from the ground up – from the grower to the garment maker – across our supplier network.  

As with everything we do on sustainability, we believe in creating more sustainable cotton products for our customers, without passing on the additional cost or difficult choices to them. 

Our more sustainable cotton timeline

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