Prince of Wales brokers ambitious deal to increase demand for sustainable cotton
More than a dozen of the world’s biggest clothing and textile companies have signed a pledge to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 in a deal brokered by the Prince of Wales.
The pledge was organised by The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit in collaboration with Marks & Spencer and the Soil Association, and aims to set a challenging target whereby brands and retailers can drive change in the industry.
Lord Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: “It’s difficult to get consumers to make the link between clothing and their supply chains. They look to retailers they trust to make moves.”
Signatories to the sustainable cotton communiqué are: ASOS, Eileen Fisher, Greenfibres, H&M, IKEA, Kering, Levi Strauss & Co, Lindex, M&S, Nike, Sainsbury's, F&F at Tesco, and Woolworths Holdings. Together these companies use in excess of 300,000 tonnes of cotton annually.
The pledge encourages retailers and brands to work with existing standards including organic, Fairtrade, and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), to certify their sustainable cotton.
“We wanted to avoid the kind of controversy there was with sustainable palm oil, introducing a set of new standards … we wanted to keep it simple and inexpensive,” said Melchett. He added that although collaboration between standards is fairly unusual, there was an opportunity for the three existing key standards to come together, as well as Cotton Made in Africa, and certified recycled cotton.
The companies that pledged their support are at various stages of using sustainable cotton, with some just beginning and others, like Greenfibres, already securing all of their cotton from sustainable sources.
The pledge comes in the wake of the announcement that Marks and Spencer and Target have joined Cotton 2040, a new cross-industry initiative to make sustainable cotton a mainstream commodity. Cotton 2040 attended the pledge meeting and are helping to communicate with the companies involved on which frameworks are available to companies who are looking to source sustainable cotton, as well as the key mechanisms available to move conditions in supply chains.
Collaboration across the sector is needed to bring about transformative change, said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer at Kering: “Working together with other companies who are also committed to using 100% sustainable cotton will help create a strong market signal to improve the methods for cotton cultivation and contribute to reducing the overall impact of the sector.”
The hope is that the pledge will encourage more companies to join, with an additional 10 companies already looking to sign the pledge in the foreseeable future. “By declaring it publicly there is pressure to deliver,” said Melchett.
Melchett said he and Marks and Spencer’s Mike Barry collaborated in the belief that improving the cotton supply chain would have a dramatic effect on the lives of some of the poorest farmers in the world. Melchett said that when polled, consumers were most interested in the improvement sustainable cotton farming can have on farmers’ lives.
Farmers who are certified to grow organic cotton are also certified to grow a range of produce, including vegetables and sunflowers. “Farmers can then feed themselves and their families,” Melchett said, “Diversity gives you resilience against disease and gives you a sustainable food supply.”
If sustainable cotton is to become the norm, the amount of sustainable cotton grown and bought needs to increase significantly. But Melchett said supply is ready to meet the demand. He pointed out that much organic cotton struggles to find buyers and is sold into the non-organic cotton supply chain.
“What’s needed is a growth in demand. If there’s demand, there’ll be supply.” He said that companies are advised to talk to their existing suppliers and producers to set up an organic supply chain, and give consistent demand over a few years to encourage sustainable production.
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