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Primark Expands Sustainable Cotton Scheme Fivefold

Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Programme is growing.

The British high-street retailer announced last week that it will train more than 160,000 independent cotton farmers—over five times its current enrollment—in sustainable farming methods across India, Pakistan and, for the first time, China.

The expansion, Primark says, marks an important milestone in its commitment to minimize its impact on the environment while bringing more sustainably sourced cotton to a broader audience.

“As a leading international retailer, we know that many people rely on us for great quality cotton products at affordable prices,” Katharine Stewart, ethical trade and environmental sustainability director at Primark, said in a statement. “Cotton is one of our most important fibers and, like other retailers, we rely on farmers working in rural communities around the world. Improving the long-term sustainability of how that cotton is grown has therefore been a key priority for some time.”

Primark has been working with agricultural enterprise CottonConnect and grassroots stakeholders since 2013 to train farmers in three-year batches on “more natural,” climate-appropriate techniques that slash water and pesticide use and boost cotton yields. Participants in Pakistan, where the program launched last year, for instance, saw a 11.2-percent rise in yields, a 12.9-percent reduction in input costs and an average profit increase of 26.8 percent after their first year of training, Primark said. Many of the farmers, the retailer noted, have used their surplus profits to invest in farm equipment, children’s education or housing.

“We’re delighted to continue our work with Primark as part of this industry-leading program to train more cotton farmers in sustainable farming methods,” said Alison Ward, CEO at CottonConnect. “Not only are we materially changing the lives of farmers and their families in rural cotton communities, but by working closely with Primark and [its] supply-chain partners we have been able to trace the cotton all the way from the farm into products—a challenging but important step towards increased supply-chain transparency.”

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CottonConnect will be collaborating with the Heping Cotton Farmers’ Cooperative, its implementation partner, to introduce over 80,000 independent cotton farmers in China to the scheme. Additional farmers will also be enrolled in Primark’s existing programs in India and Pakistan.

Primark debuted incorporated sourced cotton from its program into one of its bestselling product lines—women’s pajamas—under its Primark Cares initiative in 2017. Since then, more than 14 million pairs of pajamas have been sold, along with 3 million pairs of jeans and 6 million duvet covers and towels made with sustainable cotton tracked through the program at “no extra cost to the customer.” The retailer says it eventually plans to use only sustainably sourced cotton across its entire product assortment.

“What’s particularly exciting for us is that we can be confident our cotton has been grown in an environmentally friendly way because we’ve been able to track it all the way from farm to store,” Stewart said. “By extending the program into another major cotton-sourcing country, we’ll be able to offer our customers even more products made using sustainable cotton—all at the Primark prices our customers know and love.”