For fashion brands and retailers, cotton is still one of the most used raw materials. There are multiple sustainability initiatives that address the many challenges in the cotton industry. The traditional cultivation of cotton has a serious impact on both the environment and people, such as highly hazardous pesticides, working conditions, water consumption and threats to biodiversity. Sustainable cotton initiatives address these issues through collaboration with cotton farmers, textile processors, local communities and governments. Although around 13 per cent of the global supply of cotton is sustainable cotton, uptake by brands and retailers remains an issue.
Leading standards and companies in sustainable cotton
In the report from the Pesticide Action Network UK, Solidaridad and WWF, a number of recommendations and conclusions are shared. The following standards are considered to be the most credible for those companies that actively seek to source cotton more sustainably:
- Better Cotton Initiative (use case)
- Fairtrade cotton (use case)
- Organic cotton
- Cotton made in Africa (CmiA)
In the report, 37 brands and retailers have been assessed on their performance, with IKEA Group leading the list. For those companies that are already a member of one or more of the aforementioned initiatives, the following recommendations can be helpful:
- Encourage all suppliers to participate in credible sustainability programmes;
- Increase the amount of sustainable cotton sourced and purchased to send a strong market signal about sustainability;
- Report transparently on cotton sourcing and sustainability;
- Map supply chains and use traceability tools.
Traceability in the cotton supply chain
ChainPoint has been involved with the Better Cotton Initiative since 2013 and with Fairtrade Cotton since 2015, delivering traceability and supply chain data collection, as well as analytics and reporting. In order to create more visibility along the cotton supply chain, supply chain mapping and data collection at each node is vital. Once stakeholders are identified, collaborating with these stakeholders to retrieve data and guarantee traceability is extremely important.
For the Better Cotton Initiative, ChainPoint implemented traceability based on the Chain of Custody models of segregation and mass-balance. Better cotton and traditional cotton are separated at harvest. Later in the process, cotton is mixed, and by tracking so-called Better Cotton Claim Units, the percentage of better cotton and traditional cotton is tracked along the supply chain. Read the BCI use case.
Data collection in the cotton supply chain
Data collection at the cotton farmer level can be done in various ways, for example by using self-assessment forms or audit forms used by certification bodies. The forms used can be filled in online using the ChainPoint platform. However, one of the recent developments at ChainPoint is the introduction of the ChainPoint Mobile Data Collection. This technology enables users to create forms in ChainPoint which can be used within our mobile data collection app. Questions within a form are managed online in the main ChainPoint Desktop application and are pushed to mobile devices running the app once those devices are online. In this way a single app can be used for multiple types of data collection scenarios, including audits. The app is also capable of recording data in offline mode. This means that data can still be collected even if a mobile device does not have an internet connection. In offline mode, data that is collected on the device will be synchronized once the device is connected to the internet again. The latest version of the app also allows partially filled in forms to be sent to the app, which reduces the time needed to fill in the form, reduces errors and improves the workflow of assigning forms to specific users.
If you would like to know more about our capabilities in the textile and apparel sector, please visit our industry page or contact us for an introduction meeting.
The full report (PDF) can be downloaded here.