More sustainable cotton Normalising better practices for more sustainable cotton

Our 2020 goal is for 100% of the cotton we use to be more sustainable. In 2018, 71% 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 our most sustainable option, and accounts for 38% of the cotton we use. For the sixth 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, OCS, or Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS).

Certified Organic Cotton

Better Cotton Initiative Cotton

Why focus on cotton? Why strong policies support a more sustainable world.

Production PrinciplesCotton is used by nearly everyone, every day, and supports 250 million people’s livelihoods [SOURCE: BCI]. Cotton also 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.  This is why we follow strict policies to ensure the integrity of our more sustainable cotton fibre from farm to store and commit to only sourcing more sustainable cotton by 2020:

  • Water Use and Policy: 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].  Our policy for organic and BCI cotton is to enforce the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria on water stewardship.  Adherence to these principles is managed through the Better Cotton Assurance Programme.  For organic cotton, our policy is for famers to follow water stewardship requirements as defined in the USDA National Organic Programme §205.200 and the European Comission Council Regulation 834/2007, Title II, Article 3.  These production standards are certified under the Textile Exchange Organic Content Standard (OCS) or the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), by third party certification bodies.
  • Pesticide Use and Policy: 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.  To ensure that pestcides are not used in organic cotton farming we follow a zero synthetic pesticides policy for certified organic cotton as defined in the USDA National Organic Prgramme §205.105, the Indian National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) section 3 and where applicable, the EU Regulation for Organic Production and Labeling 834/2007.  These practices are certified against the OCS or GOTS standard by third party certification bodies.  For BCI cotton, we adhere to the Better Cotton Initiative guiding principle of minimising the harmful impacts of crop protection practices in the Production Principles and Criteria, including the BCI Pesticides List Classification.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Organic cotton produces 46% fewer GHG emissions than conventional cotton [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].  Our policy for GHGs is to follow the Science Based Target Initiative and our goals for absolute GHG reductions to avoid a global tempature rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Labour issues and our policy: 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].  In this light, our policy for safe and fair labour is our Supplier Code of Conduct that covers safe and dignified work from farm to store.
  • Biodiversity Policy:  Biodiversity is an outcome of more suststainable cotton production and the application of the BCI and National production standards at the farm level. To facilitate biodiversity at the farm level our policy is to require that both BCI and National production standards for organic cotton are followed and certified at the farm level. For BCI cotton our policy requires that all farmers abide by Principle 4 of the BCI Principles and Criteria, which are audited by BCI on a periodic basis.  For certified organic cotton , we require famers to comply with the National production standards' (NPOP, NOP and EU) principles of effective management of soil fertility, faciliating wildlife habitats, and maintiming agro-diverse crops atthe farm level which is in the heart of organic cotton cultivation.  Our position on biodiversity in organic cotton production is supported by the National production standards and certifed against the OCS and GOTS standards.
  • 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


Where our cotton is grown

Cotton is a shrub that is native to tropical and subtropical regions all over the world, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt and India.  Currently, 90% of the certified organic cotton that is used in our garments comes from India, where small holder farmers grow cotton and other staple crops using organic farming practices.  In recent years, we have worked with NGOs in China to cultivate new sources of transition organic cotton in the Binzhou region in Northern Shandong Province.

Like organic cotton, we understand the sources of Better Cotton through the Better Cotton Platform (BCP) to the spinner level.  Currently over 90% of our BCI cotton comes from China, India, Pakistan, Brazil and the United States as declared by spinners in the BCP tool.

Read more about certified organic cotton

Read more about BCI cotton

Our 2018 actions

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

Increase Better Cotton uptake in all our retail markets.

Our 2018 performance

Progress towards our 2020 goal

Our use of more sustainable cotton has improved, with 71% used across the business in 2018, up from 67% last year. In 2019, we will continue focusing on closing the gap to 100% by engaging with our entire cotton supply chain towards creating change across the sector.

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

0% 100% 50% 2016 2017 2018 Better cotton Organic cotton % share of total cotton* 33% 20% 40% 28% 38% Year 33%

*From 2012 to 2016, this included REEL cotton

Leading in organic cotton

C&A was named the leading buyer of organic cotton in the world for the sixth time in 2018 [SOURCE: Textile Exchange].

Signing the Prince of Wales Cotton Communiqué

In 2017, we joined the Prince of Wales Cotton Communiqué, 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. To this end, we have contributed to the CottonUp guide — supported by C&A Foundation —by publishing a case study on our journey towards more sustainable cotton. The interactive CottonUp guide addresses three major topics related to sustainable cotton: why it’s important, what you need to know and do, and how to get started.

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 are developing our science-based targets. 

Read more about our action on carbon and climate change


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. More than 10 years ago 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

Making more sustainable cotton the norm

Since our journey to more sustainable cotton started more than 10 years ago, it has been 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, more sustainable cotton is a central 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