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Carter’s CSR Exec Talks Xinjiang, Traceability and Sustainable Cotton

Carter’s inaugural corporate social responsibility report pulls back the curtain on the children’s wear company’s plans to promote people, product and planet.

Like its peers in apparel retail, the infant and kid’s wear giant is aiming to use only sustainable fibers by the end of the decade. A Better Cotton Initiative member as of this year, Carter’s strategy for using only sustainable cotton and polyester when 2030 rolls around includes sourcing the organization’s “more sustainable” cotton, Antonio Robinson, the company’s senior vice president of corporate social responsibility, told Sourcing Journal.

Little Planet, a new sustainability-based brand, makes infantwear with Global Organic Textile Standard-certified cotton, essentially serving as a petri dish of eco-friendly ideas and learnings that Carter’s can scale across its assortment, Robinson said. “We’ve seen some really good consumer feedback so far since we launched it earlier this year and look to see how the consumer engages with it as we go forward,” he added.

Transitioning to more sustainable fibers likely means Carter’s will have to broaden its network of sourcing and manufacturing partners, in tandem with “new technologies and innovations” on the raw materials front, Robinson said.

Given the heightened awareness around transparency in recent years, Carter’s is striving to increase its supply-chain visibility with an ongoing cotton traceability initiative. Last year it brought a new external partner on board to “accelerate” its traceability work, Robinson noted, leveraging the outsider’s “technology and infrastructure” to shed light on new tiers of its supply chain.

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Carter’s emphasized that it doesn’t have any sourcing links to the China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, though it’s “concerned about reports of forced labor” there, CEO Michael Casey wrote in the 2020 report. The cotton traceability program, he added, will further confirm the “integrity” of Carter’s global supply chain. The company sources more than three-quarters of its products from Cambodia, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam, with the balance largely coming from Central America.

“We make it clear to our vendor base that there’s a zero tolerance policy for any forced labor within the supply chain,” Robinson said. “And in the light of everything that’s been in the headlines, we went out over a year or so ago to get confirmation and validation from our manufacturing partners that none of our products are made or sourced from the Xinjiang region.”

In addition to planet-promoting goals to trim greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030, prioritize sustainable packaging and minimize landfill-bound refuse, Carter’s is also taking aim at how it can reduce water waste. Robinson said the company will leverage its new membership in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and access to the Higg Index Facility Environmental Module “to really get a better understanding of our water use, and then how we can more effectively manage it in the manufacturing of our products.”

The company also wants to make a social impact, and elevate the well-being of 10 million families and 1 million value-chain workers—at minimum—by 2030, while also increasing diversity within its ranks and supply chains.

In a statement, Robinson said Carter’s is leaning into the “market evolution occurring as a result of the growing social responsibility expectations of our stakeholders, including consumers, employees, and investors.”

“Our annual reporting will offer insight into our goals and initiatives, and also serve as an important benchmark in gauging our progress,” added Robinson, who was promoted to a member of the children’s wear company’s leadership team last year. “We are pursuing opportunities to drive innovation and efficiencies across the lifecycle of our products, while enhancing our social and environmental impact.”