More sustainable cotton Leading the way in more sustainable cotton

Our 2020 goal is for 100% of the cotton we use to be more sustainable. In 2017, 67% of the cotton we sold was either certified organic cotton or sourced as Better Cotton. By sourcing more sustainable cotton, we are normalising better practices across the cotton industry and demonstrating that sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton is possible.

Certified organic cotton is the most sustainable option, and accounts for 40% of the cotton we use. For the fifth year, C&A is the world’s leading buyer of organic cotton. We never blend organic cotton with non-organic cotton when it goes into our collections, and we make sure all the organic cotton we use is certified to third-party standards (Organic Content Standard (OSC) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)).

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]. Cotton makes up 57% of the materials we use in our clothing, so it’s where we can have the biggest impact with the right interventions.

Conventional cotton farming and production processes have a much bigger impact than more sustainable cotton:

  • 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, because most of it is rain-fed [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].
  • Pesticide use: Conventional cotton uses around 5% of all the herbicides and 16% of all insecticides applied globally in agriculture [SOURCE: International Cotton Advisory Committee]. 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 46% fewer carbon emissions than conventional cotton [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].
  • Labour: Forced and bonded labour is a key challenge in the cotton industry. Better Cotton has a strong focus on ensuring decent work, covering freedom of association, non-discrimination, child labour and forced labour, and health and safety [SOURCE: BCI].
  • Supply issues: Cotton farmers are moving away from cultivating cotton in favour of more profitable crops such as tobacco, soybeans or pulses, partly due to plunging cotton prices and difficulties accessing quality seeds [SOURCE: OCA]. Growing more sustainable cotton provides them better access to markets as well as training and learning opportunities to adopt more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production practices.

Read more about certified organic cotton

Read more about BCI cotton


Our 2017 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 2017 performance

Progress towards our 2020 goal

Our use of more sustainable cotton has improved, with 67% used across the business in 2017, up from 53% last year. In 2018, we will focus on closing the gap to 100% by engaging with our entire 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

2 0 1 1 0 % 1 0 0 % 5 0 % 2 0 1 4 2 0 1 2 2 0 1 5 2 0 1 3 2 0 1 6 2 0 1 7 Europe Global Organic cotton REEL/Better Cotton 1 3 % 3 2 % 43 % 4 6 % 40 % 53 % 6 7 %

Leading in more sustainable cotton

C&A was named the leading buyer of organic cotton in the world for the fifth time in 2017 [SOURCE: Textile Exchange]. We were also ranked third in a new sustainable cotton report commissioned by WWF, Solidaridad and Pesticide Action Network UK. The research covers 75 fashion brands and assesses their performance on sustainable cotton [SOURCE: WWF].

Signing the Prince of Wales Cotton Communiqué

In 2017, we joined the Prince of Wales Cotton Comminqué, the first cross-standard initiative for more sustainable cotton. The communiqué, set up by the Prince of Wales International Sustainability Unit in partnership with Marks & Spencer and the Soil Association, asks brands and retailers to procure more sustainable cotton and to pledge to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. Our own goal is to be sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020 and, as the world’s top buyer of certified organic cotton and third top buyer of more sustainable cotton, we have the opportunity to share our learnings with our industry and to encourage collaboration between sustainable cotton standards.

Membership of the Better Cotton 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 Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund, which exists to propel the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) towards its 2020 target to train over five million farmers 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] and is therefore a key component of our climate change strategy and how we will be developing our approach to science-based targets. 

Read more about our action on carbon and climate change here

Supporting cotton workers in our supply chain

Buying organic cotton has a direct positive impact on the health and safety of farming communities who are no longer exposed to hazardous chemicals. We also have a history of taking concrete steps to support cotton workers when required. In 2007, we signed the Cotton Pledge against forced labour, committing to end the practice of forced labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan.

Read more about how we support cotton workers in our supply chain

Who we’re working with

Making more sustainable cotton the norm

Making more sustainable cotton the norm

Our journey to more sustainable cotton started more than 10 years ago. 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 commitment 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.

We believe in creating more sustainable cotton products for our customers without passing on any additional cost or making the choice difficult for them. 

Our more sustainable cotton timeline