Starting a movement
When it's grown and sold in the right way, organic cotton is better for everyone. For the environment, for farmers and for the fashion industry. But even with years of hard work and commitment from a variety of organisations, organic cotton still has a small market share.
The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) was established in 2014 to overcome the barriers that are holding back the production of organic cotton. For OCA, it's about fundamentally transforming the entire system. That starts with building a movement for change across the organic cotton sector.
At the moment, individual brands who want to buy organic cotton often work with their own farmers, spinners, factories and other supply chain partners. But a single brand can't transform a whole sector. Our purpose is to create a shared vision and strategy that brings everyone's actions together. To get us all pulling in the same direction.
Organic cotton has many benefits for farmers: less dependence on chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides, as well as a healthier working environment. But many farmers are still reluctant to make the switch. To farm organic cotton, they'll need to learn new skills and invest time. And since their yields tend to decrease in the first years, they take a hit on their margins too. So they need to see it as a long-term investment.
We're making the business case for organic cotton stronger for farmers by providing access to better quality, uncontaminated organic seeds. We will also strengthen collaboration between supply chain actors through promoting best practices of risk sharing and long-term commitments. With these actions, farmers can reap the benefits of growing organic cotton in the medium term.
The cotton supply chain is extremely fragmented. With so many different players between the farmer and the brand, it's hard to know just how much organic is in the end product. Because there is no one reliable traceability system in place across the entire supply chain, brands are reluctant to buy organic and run the risk of a damaged reputation.
So that's our next challenge. We want to strengthen the integrity of organic cotton by building a traceability system. More streamlined supply chains, better custody systems and clearer reporting frameworks will give brands the confidence to say that organic really means organic. And that means they'll invest more in organic farmers. It's a win-win.
Through all of these solutions, we will be able to build a safer and more prosperous organic cotton market.
We support 3 multi-stakeholder initiatives to grow demand for organic and deepen collaboration
Engaged 150 industry stakeholders to work across 4 workstreams:
- Building demand for sustainable cotton
- Recycling and circularity
- Improving traceability
- Upskilling farmers and farming communities
Organic & Fair Trade Cotton Secretariat (Madhya Pradesh)
14 organizations represented across government, NGOs, brands and retailers
3 seed-breeding initiatives are underway
Organic Cotton Accelerator
Founded by a group of 5 brands focusing on 4 priority initiatives:
- Setting up a traceability system
- Identify and implement chain of custody innovations
- Increase transparency through a reporting system
- Increase the supply of quality seeds
€518k in public and private sector funding invested to date
Creating an organic cotton market in China
At C&A, we've committed to using 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020. At the moment, reaching that ambition is practically impossible in China. So, together with C&A Foundation, we're creating a solution.
China has tough standards when it comes to certifying cotton as organic. The cotton we could import from other countries would never meet the criteria. So it would have to be grown and produced in China. But, according to the Textile Exchange, of the 6.5 million metric tonnes of cotton China grows, only about 12,200 is organic. That's less than 0.2%.
Converting cotton growers to organic isn't easy. There are plenty of aspects that put farmers off, like a lower short-term yield. To negate that worry and promote organic farming, C&A and C&A Foundation have been working with Rare, a conservation NGO, to strengthen the business case for organic cotton.
Organic cotton needs less water to grow than conventional cotton. The input costs are lower too. Instead of spending money on pesticides and fertilizer, farmers can use bio-pesticides and manure – much cheaper organic alternatives. Rare works with farmers, teaching them how to grow organic, helping them to get certified and ultimately fostering a change of mind set.
This work with farmers in China, and specifically a project run jointly between Rare and WWF, has given us enough cotton for around 20,000 pieces for Summer 2016. It was less than we'd hoped for due to a late start to the project, bad weather that led to quality issues and a delayed harvest. We also struggled to find a ginner. So we'll be taking those lessons on board as we work with farmers to increase the output for next year, which we plan to increase by a factor of ten.
When this project started, it was very much a sourcing-driven initiative. But we need to ensure there's a demand. So we've been working with our design and marketing teams to find the best way to take our organic cotton products to customers. We launched a campaign in June 2016 and start telling the story of organic cotton. It's an opportunity for us to differentiate C&A in China and make organic an accessible and fashionable choice.
We're committed to increasing China's organic cotton market. And that won't just benefit C&A. We believe it will help the entire industry.
Our results in 2015
We helped 5,608 additional farmers in 3 countries to start certification of their organic cotton, in a multi-year process resulting in a 16.5% increase in hectares under organic production or in conversion
In 2015, these farmers produced 7,895 metric tons of organic cotton lint. That’s enough to produce about 30 million 100% organic cotton T-shirts