Why a Sustainable Cotton Ranking?

The production of more sustainable cotton has never been higher. However, only 21% of what’s available is actively sourced by companies. The remainder is traded as conventional cotton. This gap presents a serious risk for the future of more sustainable cotton. With this ranking, PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF hope to accelerate demand and uptake of more sustainable cotton by clothing and home-textile retailing companies.

Why sustainable cotton?

Conventional cotton production is characterised by interconnected environmental and socio-economic challenges that threaten the sector’s sustainability.

 

Environmental issues

Environmental challenges in conventional cotton production include:

  • Overuse and misuse of pesticides, which has significant impacts on ecosystems, as well as the health of farmers and their communities;
  • Overuse of synthetic fertilisers, which causes loss of soil fertility and soil acidification;
  • Overuse of water – the global average water footprint of seed cotton is nearly 1.5 Olympic swimming pools per tonne.

Socio-economical problems

Socio-economic challenges in conventional cotton production include:

  • Poor working conditions, child labour and forced labour;
  • High debts for farmers due to heavy use of costly inputs like pesticides and fertilisers;
  • Low farmer incomes under constant threat from global market volatility;
  • Gender inequality holding back inclusive development in cotton farming communities.

Cotton cash can improve millions of lives

Despite these challenges, cotton still provides farmers with a cash income, which alongside subsistence crops, can pay for building materials, school fees, and other household necessities. If farmed sustainably, cotton can give millions of cotton farmers worldwide a decent income and help them improve their lives.

Without demand problems will persist

However, without market demand, more sustainable cotton will remain a niche product and the cotton industry’s social and environmental problems will persist. With this ranking, PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF hope to encourage uptake of more sustainable cotton by clothing and home-textile retailing companies.

 
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