Why a Sustainable Cotton Ranking?

Conventional cotton presents many environmental and socio-economic challenges, which sustainable cotton helps to address. While the production of more sustainable cotton has never been higher, still only 25% 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 and misuse of synthetic fertilisers, which causes loss of soil fertility and soil acidification, as well as water quality impacts;
  • Overuse of water, especially in water-scarce areas – the global average water footprint of seed cotton is nearly 1.5 Olympic swimming pools per tonne of cotton. Accordingly, conventional cotton production can drain water aquifers and river systems and limit water for people and nature.

Socio-economic 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 medical expenses, 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

Without strong market demand, more sustainable cotton will remain a niche product and the cotton industry’s social and environmental problems, which cascade to local communities and basins, 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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