The global apparel sector still has a long road ahead until it can claim it is environmentally and socially sustainable. Cotton production worldwide consumes six per cent of all pesticides and 14 per cent of insecticides sold. Millions of farmers, the vast majority of which are smallholders, are dependent on raising cotton as their sole source of income – exposing them to climate change risks and human rights violations. These are the results of a survey by the NGO Solidaridad.
The good news is that the total amount of sustainable cotton sourced by brands and retailers increased from 17 per cent in 2015 to 21 per cent in 2016, indicating that the entire industry at large is slowly changing its ways. But certification and traceability still impose huge challenges, meaning many farmers could be losing out on revenues that could make a difference in their lives. Up to 80 per cent of more sustainably produced cotton was sold as conventional, without any recognition.
There is a need to increase the amount of sustainable cotton in the industry’s global supply chain. Cotton sourcing policies need far more rigor. Companies have to communicate to stakeholders their approach to problems such as water consumption, biodiversity, human rights and recycling. Transparency is key. Companies should report annually on their policies, sourcing strategies and progress as they shift to recycled, organic or more responsibly-grown cotton.