Organic cotton has been at the heart of our sustainable materials strategy for more than 10 years. It is significantly better for the environment and the people who work with it. Now, as we move towards our 2020 goals, we remain committed to buying and selling organic cotton and taking a stronger role in supporting the organic cotton sector.
Organic cotton protects soil quality, biodiversity and water supply, while preventing water pollution. And it’s safer for farmers and their communities’ health. In 2016, for the fourth time, C&A was named the world’s largest user of organic cotton in the Textile Exchange's Organic Cotton Market Report. During the year, 33% of the cotton products we sold globally were made of organic cotton. From the grower to the garment maker, our organic cotton supply chain is certified to the Organic Content Standard (OCS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and never blended with conventional cotton. So, whenever you find a product labelled with our BIO Cotton seal in one of our stores, OCS and GOTS guarantee that the supply chain of the cotton is thoroughly checked and monitored right from source to the final product.
Increasing our sales of certified organic cotton
In 2016, more than 33% of the clothing we sold was made with certified organic cotton. By offering more sustainable garments and communicating the benefits to our customers, we can continue to help drive demand for organic cotton. It is important to note, that we began to consolidate global organic cotton volumes for all retail markets in 2015. Prior to 2015, only Europe's certified organic volumes were reported.
Reducing our impact
In 2016, the Textile Exchange estimated that through the purchase of organic cotton, C&A saved 133.8 billion litres of water, prevented 123 tonnes of pesticides from being used, and improved the soil in more than 136,000 hectares of land.
Continuing our work in strengthening the sector
We have continued our partnerships with industry reformers such as C&A Foundation and the Organic Cotton Accelerator throughout 2016, to help bolster and secure the organic cotton sector.
Creating supply and demand: our ‘For the Planet’ organic cotton range in China
While 90% of the organic cotton we use originates in India, we expanded our work on organic cotton to China. Working with C&A Foundation and conservation partner Rare, we created both supply and demand for organic cotton in a market that still needs to be developed.
Less than 1% of cotton produced globally is organic, and the sector faces challenges such as a lack of availability and access to quality non-GMO seeds, few incentives for farmers, limited access to the market and lack of supply chain traceability and transparency. Despite a growing demand for organic cotton, farmers are moving out of production due to issues such as access to quality seeds and securing income and access to market during the transition phase from conventional to organic farming practices. Unless these issues are addressed, the whole sector is at risk. We are continuing our work to strengthen the organic cotton sector, working with trusted partners to create a common vision for the sector.
Since 2014, we’ve supported the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), which aims to create an organic cotton market that benefits everyone, from the farmer to the consumer. C&A is a founding partner and C&A Foundation has provided core financial support for the first four years. With our fellow OCA members – brands, retailers, non-profit organisations, and social enterprises – we’re working to find the best ways to strengthen the organic cotton sector and support a healthy supply and demand. Plans include:
In addition to funding the OCA, C&A Foundation is supporting farmers in the organic sector through partners like CottonConnect, Rare, ASA, WWF and the Aga Khan Foundation. In 2016, C&A Foundation provided €6.8 million to social and environmental programmes in India, China, and Pakistan. Every initiative is designed to improve farmers’ incomes and livelihoods, and contribute to the environment and local communities. In 2016/2017, C&A Foundation has helped 28,279 farmers adopt organic cotton cultivation practices.
One of our key leadership moves on our more sustainable cotton journey was to form CottonConnect. CottonConnect was created by C&A, the Shell Foundation and Textile Exchange in 2009 to help smallholder farmers move from conventional, high-impact farming to more sustainable methods. It’s designed to link farmers with the international cotton market and help encourage retailers source more sustainable cotton from smallholders. Because of our shared vision to bring more sustainable cotton to market, CottonConnect is working across the industry, helping 16,240 cotton farmers convert to organic cultivation practices.
Bolstering the industry
Despite the rising demand for organic cotton, farmers are moving out of organic cotton production, and brands are finding it increasingly difficult to find the right quality and quantity of organic cotton [SOURCE: OCA]. Industry initiatives must align on global standards to provide the vision and drive needed for the industry to thrive. We are working hard with the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) to look at our sourcing practices, the availability of non-GMO seed, and the assurance that farmers will benefit from our purchases. We also support OCA’s Call for Collective Action to accelerate the development and realisation of a unified sector vision and agenda. It is only through collective action that we will be able to capitalise on the existing enthusiasm for organic cotton – and ensure that together we can take this promising sector from strength to strength.
Reaching out to customers: Certified organic cotton range in Europe
Spring 2017 saw the launch of our certified organic cotton campaign across all our European stores. The campaign ran in-store, online and via social media. It was designed to connect with customers as the world’s largest retailer of organic cotton.
Doing everything we can to ensure the certified organic cotton we buy is really organic
We do everything we can to secure our claim – going beyond certification and what’s required legally, with strict due diligence and third-party assessment to ensure credibility of our organic cotton. The additional checks we have in place in our supply chain include supply chain mapping, spinner nomination, farmer and supply chain training and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) testing. We are currently the only brand testing cotton for GMO contamination at the farm (with the help of CottonConnect), at spinner level and in the end product. In 2017, we will continue this work because it helps us and our supply chain partners to improve.