The sustainable cotton market is facing an uncertain future according to new research commissioned by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) UK, Solidaridad and WWF. While production of more sustainable cotton has never been higher, and is projected* to account for 13% for global supply for 2015, company buying (‘uptake’) is lagging behind.
The three organisations are calling on major brands and retailers to make and realise commitments to sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020 or sooner.
Despite at least 12 global companies committing to source 100% more sustainable cotton, only 17% of all sustainable cotton is sold as such. The remaining 83% gets no recognition and is sold as conventional cotton.
“Buying more sustainable cotton has never been easier”, said Richard Holland, Director, WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative. “Leading companies like IKEA and H&M are showing it's possible to use 100% more sustainable cotton in their products within a couple of years.”
Cotton is grown in around 80 countries worldwide and is a key raw material for the textile industry, accounting for around 32% of all fibres used. Sustainability issues include the widespread use of pesticides, with 6.2% of global pesticide sales associated with cotton production, and intensive water use, with 73% of global production currently dependent on irrigation.
A number of sustainable cotton standards have been developed in the last 30 years, starting with Organic cotton in the 1980s, followed by Fairtrade in 2004, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) in 2005 and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in 2009. All provide guidance and support for farmers and seek to reassure consumers and retailers that the products they buy are being produced using sustainable farming methods.
While many cotton farmers are driven into debt by the cost of pesticides and fertilisers, sustainable cotton production has the potential to lift farmers out of poverty by providing a more stable income and improving working conditions.
PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF have commissioned further research to assess and compare global textile companies’ policies and purchase of more sustainable cotton with first results of a benchmark undertaken in partnership with Rank a Brand expected in June 2016.
* Data on actual (sustainable) cotton production in 2015 are not yet available.