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. We are committed to buying and selling organic cotton and taking a stronger role in supporting the organic cotton sector and have developed a leadership position in scaling our procurement of certified organic cotton. Since 2005, we have increased the number of certified organic cotton garments from 1 million to more than 170 million pieces.
Organic cotton also protects soil quality, biodiversity, and water supply, while preventing water pollution. And it’s safer for farmers and their communities’ health. 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. This means that any C&A product in the store labelled with our BIO COTTON seal is guaranteed and certified by OCS and GOTS that the supply chain of the cotton has been thoroughly monitored from source to the final product.
Our evolution in certified organic cotton
Since we began purchasing organic cotton in 2005, we have rapidly grown our procurement, and by 2018, 38% of the cotton we used was certified organic. We remain committed to organic cotton as one way to make our clothing more sustainable. Concurrently, we continue evaluating what our customers want in sustainable fashion. Going forward, we are focused on getting organic cotton into the right products and clothing collections. Prioritising our use of organic cotton will result in higher concentrations of organic cotton in certain product types and collections where its use is especially important to customers.
One important attribute that has emerged is physical traceability of the fibre. Though all our organic cotton is certified to a third-party standard, we want to understand if it would be possible to physically trace the fibre from farm to store. This is why we are engaged in an innovative blockchain pilot with Bext360 that uses technology to trace organic cotton throughout the value chain using different tracing methodologies to detect chain of custody through the value chain – from farm to store. The pilot aims to determine if this is an approach that could provide C&A even greater confidence around integrity, purity, and quality, and enable new communication approaches with our customers.
By offering organic cotton garments and communicating the benefits to our customers, we can continue to help drive demand. 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 2018, the Textile Exchange estimated that through the purchase of organic cotton in 2017, C&A saved 170.8 billion litres of water, avoided the use of 157 metric tons of hazardous pesticide, and improved the quality of over 174,000 hectares of soil. Note that the Textile Exchange uses a different methodology for calculating impacts and savings than Aligned Incentives, the organisation that calculates C&A’s footprint — presented elsewhere in this report. Therefore, the results cannot be directly compared.
Ensuring the certified organic cotton we buy is really organic
We do our utmost to secure the integrity of our organic cotton – going beyond certification and what’s required legally, with due diligence and third-party assessment. These additional checks include organic seed screening, seed linkage with organic farmers, training of farmers and ginners, supply chain mapping and yarn spinner nomination. Going forward, we will be continuing our testing of organic cotton for genetically modified organism (GMO) contamination at the farm level (with the help of CottonConnect) through due diligence and third-party assessment.
Continuing our work to strengthen the sector
Throughout 2018, we continued our partnerships with organisations such as C&A Foundation and the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), to help bolster and secure the organic cotton sector.
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 to transition, 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, and the whole sector is at risk if the industry is unable to address these issues effectively. So, 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 have supported the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), which aims to create an organic cotton market that benefits everyone, from the farmer to the customer. C&A is a founding partner (and serves on the Board of Trustees) and C&A Foundation is providing core financial support. With our fellow OCA affiliates – brands, retailers, non-profit organisations, and social enterprises – we’re working to find the best ways to strengthen the organic cotton sector and support healthy supply and demand. Plans include:
In 2018-2019, C&A Foundation helped 49,509 farmers adopt organic cotton cultivation practices with support from partners such as Cotton Connect, Rare, and Action for Social Advancement (ASA), among others. Last year, the Foundation provided over €6.1 million for social and environmental programmes in India, China, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Brazil. It continues to support various multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Organic Cotton Accelerator, Cotton 2040, and Organic and Fairtrade Cotton Secretariat, to create an enabling environment for sustainable cotton in addition to improving farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. Higher farmer incomes not only benefit farming communities, but also pave the way for greater scalability in organic cotton.
C&A Foundation launched its first organic cotton initiative in Tanzania and helped 6,957 farmers adopt organic cotton practices. In Pakistan, C&A Foundation partner WWF, in collaboration with farmers and the Agriculture Extension Department of Balochistan, produced 500 metric tons of certified organic cotton. In India, C&A Foundation and the Government of Madhya Pradesh convened Cotton Trailblazers. This milestone event celebrated the global leadership of the state in organic cotton production, acknowledged the efforts of diverse sector stakeholders, and renewed commitments for regular dialogue.
Bolstering the industry
Industry initiatives must align on global standards to provide the vision and drive needed for the industry to thrive. It is only through collective action that we will be able to capitalise on the growing enthusiasm for organic cotton – and ensure that together we can take the sector from strength to strength.
Reaching out to customers
Since early 2018, when we launched our first global customer-facing sustainability communications platform, #WearTheChange, we have communicated with customers in stores, online, and through special events about our more sustainable products and their environmental benefits. We plan to continue communicating our more sustainable cotton products to customers throughout 2019 under the #WearTheChange umbrella platform.