Why is cotton so important
Cotton is popular. In fact, it is the world’s most commonly grown non-food plant, and used in creating nearly half of all textiles. Some of the world’s cotton is grown on large, industrial plantations, but even more is grown on small family farms. Many of these small farmers live a hand-to-mouth existence, and are highly sensitive to the ups and downs of the marketplace and the weather. This is particularly true in India, China, Turkey and Africa, which, together with the United States, account for the majority of the world’s cotton production.
As consumers are buying even more organic products – and cotton is no exception – a number of organizations have been helping to support farmers in growing organic cotton. And their help is greatly needed! The demand for organic cotton is actually becoming greater than the supply.
Still today, organic cotton represents less than 1% of the world’s total annual crop. This is actually puzzling, because organic cotton provides a clear economic incentive for farmers. Organic cotton also carries the seeds of benefits far beyond market stability and consumer preference. Many of these benefits are environmental. Many are social. Many are both.
“We are now at a critical point in which the demand for organic cotton is exceeding the supply. The availability uncertainty tied to this threatens to endanger long-term investment in organic cotton.”
Chief Sustainability Officer, C&A Global
Helping real people
Small farmers are intimately tied to their land. That’s where they live, as do their families, their neighbors, and the livestock that they rely on for much of their daily diet. The air there is what they breathe, and this is where their children play. So it is good if the farms are safe.
Growing organic cotton is safe, free from toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Relying instead compost and manure, organic farmers support strong and fertile soils, and reduce dangerous N20 emissions.
Organic farming also helps lock CO2 into the soil, which mitigates climate change by avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based fertilizers. Growing organic cotton supports biodiversity as well, allowing the vital local eco-system of insects, birds and small animals to thrive.
Going organic also means that farmers do not need to rely on hybrid and other genetically modified crops, which cost twice as much to produce as organic seeds – and without any major increase in crop yield. Small cotton farmers need that money for other things, and none of them wants to go into debt. As an added benefit, to attain organic certification, farmers are also taught how to manage their farms more effectively.
"After all the troubles my family and I went through for so many years, I had lost my faith in farming. The organic cotton development programme funded by C&A Foundation has restored it."
Dilip Mangilal Patidar,
farmer in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India
Supporting real communities
The benefits of organic cotton don’t stop at the edge of the field. After the harvest, cotton is taken to a factory for processing. Many of these factories are also small, and located in small villages. Since the factory workers often live close to their job, they share the same space and drink the same water as the factory.
Organic cotton standards ensure that the chemicals used in processing textiles meet strict toxicity and biodegradability requirements. Organic textile manufacturers are also required to have a wastewater treatment plant and a sound environmental policy. Is it any wonder that organic cotton produces up to five times less wastewater pollution in local rivers? Such polluted water is also referred to as “greywater”.
Labor conditions in certified organic processing plants are also better. Certification organizations routinely demand that a factory meet criteria defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), covering such things as the number of working hours, discrimination, harsh or inhumane treatment and child labor. Eliminating bad labor practices further assists in making communities stronger, more stable and healthier.
“Brands play a key role in the development of organic cotton as a sustainable resource. Some brands are taking action, but the supply crisis shows that much more needs to be done. Collaboration is the key – working in partnership with experts, local communities and governments can enable organic cotton to realize its full potential. But companies can make a difference not only in the production countries but also in the sales markets by making their customers aware of the subject of organic cotton. In our experience, it is possible to create awareness, fulfill the demand and be profitable.”
Aleix Gonzales Busquets, Head of Stakeholder Engagement, C&A Europe
Weaving a sustainable pattern
If the case for growing organic cotton is so compelling, what is being done to promote it? Clearly, the most important person is the individual consumer. People telling other people about the benefits of organic cotton. Ultimately, it will be everyday shoppers who make the difference, and already today more and more shoppers are demanding that the cotton they so frequently wear on their skin be organic.
To support consumers’ demands, a growing number of clothing companies are investing in organic cotton. One example is by certifying their branded clothing to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The GOTS processing standard for organic fibers defines internationally accepted requirements that include ecological, social and quality criteria across the whole supply chain. Organic cotton certification by the GOTS organization is one of the most demanding organic standards in the world.
One of the companies applying the GOTS standard is C&A, for instance with the new GOTS-certified and labeled organic cotton clothing for babies. GOTS-certified garments assure parents that the branded garments are free from allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemical residues. In conventional clothes, these substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and may cause allergies, skin rashes or respiratory problems. Babies are more vulnerable than adults to chemical residue because of their thinner skin. GOTS certification helps protect them from harm.
“We are committed to working in accordance with high ethical and sustainability standards as fundamental principles of our business. Therefore, it is very important to us to ensure the safety and chemical performance of our products for our customers and the environment. We will continue to expand our ambition and offerings since we are steadfast in our commitment to strengthen the use of organic fibers and other sustainable materials and products.”
Chief Sustainability Officer, C&A Global
Working together for the common good
To support the endeavors of companies like C&A, there are a number of non-governmental organizations working hard to promote organic cotton. A good example of this is the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA). The goal of the OCA is ambitious: to build a prosperous organic cotton market that benefits everyone from farmer to consumer.
Initiated in 2014, OCA is designed to focus on areas with the greatest potential for change. For example, OCA is working to increase supply, increase demand, improve conditions for organic cotton farmers, and to promote best practices at every link in the value chain.
To do all of this, OCA is working on a number of projects. One of these is the Accelerator Fund, which will make financing for farmers and processors easier to obtain, so they can stay out of debt. Another project focuses on supporting farmers as they make the switch from conventional to organic cotton. OCA is also working to improve traceability and transparency across the cotton supply chain, so that consumers can be more certain that their cotton clothes are truly 100% organic. And OCA will be spreading the word about the benefits of organic cotton among consumers and brands, too.
The sponsors of OCA are some of the most important brands in the world of organic cotton support: the Textile Exchange, H&M, Eileen Fisher, Kering, CottonConnect, as well as the C&A Foundation and C&A.
"For many years, C&A has played an important, industry-leading role in promoting the use of certified organic cotton. Most importantly, the company's commitment goes far above and beyond simply selling the final product.We applaud their leadership and continued commitment to drive meaningful change."
Managing Director Textile Exchange
Putting people and planet first
Organic cotton helps improve the situation of real people and real communities in developing countries – protecting them from harmful chemicals, improving social conditions and reducing costs. It also helps keep consumers safe.
For over a decade, C&A has been one of the leading retailers and supporters of organic cotton in the world. C&A is committed to putting people and planet first, and to leading the way in creating sustainable fashion. Organic cotton is a critical part of that commitment. Real people are important to C&A, and today that’s a global responsibility.
In 2014, close to 40% of C&A’s cotton collection was made out of organic cotton. By 2020, C&A has set itself the long-term goal of procuring its entire cotton collection from more sustainable sources. And its long-term sustainability efforts are heading in the right direction: C&A is proud to have re-established its number 1 global ranking in relation to the use of certified organic cotton, as determined by the Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report published in June 2015.
C&A supports organic cotton - For over 170 years, family-owned C&A has been driving the evolution of the fashion industry to better serve the needs of everyday people.
- 2004 C&A starts using organic cotton while developing the first “Bio Cotton” range.
- 2007 The C&A “Bio Cotton” seal is introduced to make organic cotton textiles easily recognizable for customers.
- 2009 C&A launches CottonConnect together with Textile Excahnge and Shell Foundation
- 2009 C&A first becomes the No. 1 global retailer of organic cotton garments.
- 2010 C&A receives German Sustainability Award for its support of organic cotton.
- 2013 C&A partners with the Water Footprint Network to improve water sustainability in the textile supply chain and introduces the greywater parameter.
- 2014 C&A sold 130 million organic items, accounting for 40% of C&A’s total cotton sales.
- 2014 C&A and the C&A Foundation team up with a variety of partners to improve the social and environmental impact of cotton cultivation in India and China.
- 2015 C&A launches a baby collection in organic cotton certified and labeled to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
- 2015 C&A re-establishes its number 1 global ranking in relation to the use of certified organic cotton.
We continue making progress in bringing more organic cotton within our collections and we are highly committed to continuing advancements. We currently receive 80 to 90 per cent of our organic cotton supply from India. Diversification is important to C&A and, as such, we’re exploring new opportunities to source organic cotton from suppliers in China, Pakistan and Africa. For this we are working closely with the C&A Foundation, who are supporting a number of initiatives aimed at increasing organic production and improving the livelihood of farmers.
David Millar, Head of Fabric, Yarn & Components Global Sourcing Management, C&A Europe
Organic Cotton Facts
A 2014 report by the Textile Exchange concluded that, in contrast with nonorganic cotton, organic cotton offered:
- A 26% reduction in soil erosion, due to the effects of natural fertilizer
- A 46% reduction in global warming potential, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based fertilizers
- A 62 % reduction in fuel consumption (primary energy demand), thereby reducing costs and emissions.
- A 70% reduction in soil acidification potential, due to the elimination of fertilizer-added nitrogen. Acidification destroys the productivity of the soil.
- A 91% reduction in surface/groundwater (blue water) consumption