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CottonConnect Impact Report Shows Payoffs in Safety, Sustainability

CottonConnect‘s inaugural impact report outlines the results of its programs in the cotton production year 2021-2022 throughout Pakistan, China, India and Bangladesh.  

“True responsibility lies in a commitment not just to the activities and outcomes of interventions to improve sustainability but the impact,” the organization said in a statement. “CottonConnect monitors the results of our agricultural training programs and reports on how activities and outcomes are having positive impacts on the environment, climate and livelihoods in our first Impact Report.”

The report details the results of programs including the REEL Cotton Programme, Organic Cotton Farming Training Programme, Women in Cotton, and Health and Safety for Gins. The REEL, or Responsible Environment Enhanced Livelihood, Cotton Programme, gathered data aggregated from all programs in 2021-22 to find that participating farmers saw increases in profits (18.1 percent) and yield (6.6 percent) while cutting input costs 11.4 percent compared with a control group.

The program, which promotes sustainable agricultural practices, reduced cotton farming’s environmental impact, with cuts in chemical use (16.6 percent), chemical fertilizer (20.4 percent) and water use (11.4 percent).

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In addition to the regular program data measurement, CottonConnect’s LCA study of REEL Cotton to better understand how outcomes of REEL’s practices translate into environment and climate impacts showed a clear improvement across most indicators.

For brands, the findings illustrate that investing in sustainable cotton programs delivers results, improves farmers’ livelihoods and curbs cotton production’s environmental impact, and contributes to sustainable sourcing and ESG goals. For the cotton industry, the impact results and LCA study show that smarter agricultural practices are good for the environment, climate and livelihoods.

“Our focus has always been on delivering positive, measurable impact—for the smallholder farmers enrolled in our sustainable agriculture programs, for their communities, and for the environment. By connecting sustainably produced cotton directly into brands’ supply chains, we play a role in increasing sustainable choices for consumers,” Alison Ward, CottonConnect CEO, said. “In our first Impact Report, we’re pleased to report that our core programs have delivered positive impact results in all the environmental and social areas we measure.”

Women in cotton

Women are a crucial but frequently ignored stakeholder in global cotton production. In many growing communities, women play critical roles in planting and harvesting that determine the quantity, quality and sustainability of cotton farming. However, because their contributions go unacknowledged, they don’t receive the same training or support as men.

CottonConnect’s research found that without specific outreach efforts, just 4 percent of women join any training program that can assist them in their roles as farmers. In addition, low levels of knowledge in literacy, health and rights reduce productivity and undermine family well-being. CottonConnect’s Women in Cotton program has identified ways to improve former well-being and livelihoods and to drive sustainable and efficient cotton production. The program builds knowledge, strengthens livelihoods and connects markets. It provides the background in literacy, numeracy, rights and health to enable women to take advantage of increased livelihood opportunities, both within cotton and through supplemental income running their own enterprises.

The program trained women on clean picking techniques to ensure contamination-free cotton picking and improve health and safety during this process. Following the training, 93 percent of women used cotton fabric for cotton picking to avoid fiber contamination, 91 percent adopted the practice of picking seed cotton from the bottom upwards to minimize dirt and debris contamination, and 100 percent picked cotton during a morning window when dew has evaporated but before humidity has set in.

Health and safety for gins

One of the most critical challenges the cotton industry faces, particularly in the cotton gins, is the need for standardized or statutory health and safety measures and practices. This leads to occupational hazards, including major accidents, which can cause permanent disability due to loss of limbs and may even be life-threatening. Lung and pulmonary diseases such as Byssinosis are also common among gin workers.

Ginning is often a forgotten step in the cotton supply chain, yet it needs critical attention,” Ward said. “We’ve taken a holistic view of the supply chain, paying attention to the links which most need support. By introducing the ginner program, we aim to help improve the living and working conditions, and general health, of workers in cotton gins.”

In 2019-2020, CottonConnect’s pilot program in Madhya Pradesh in India included relevant training for ginners. The pilot program demonstrated the benefits of HSSE, or healthy safety security and environment, training in gins to improve awareness and change behavior toward a safer working environment. The aggregated results from all HSSE gin programs in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China in 2021-2022 show improved health and safety indicators. Compliance with safety aspects increased from 67.3 percent to 88.7 percent, adoption of precautionary measures increased from 51 percent to 100 percent, usage of PPE by gin workers increased from 36.2 percent to 93.3 percent, and availability of proper wash facilities for gin workers increased from 95 percent to 97.6 percent.

“We’re pleased to see CottonConnect’s programs are reducing the negative impacts of cotton production on the environment and also promoting practices to deliver improvements in soil health, water, biodiversity, climate and communities,” La Rhea Pepper, catalyst and co-founder of the Textile Exchange, said. “This supports Textile Exchange’s end goal to help scale a global cotton production system that not only works to reduce negative impacts but harness the positive co-benefits that cotton can bring to people and the environment.”

CottonConnect is a company with a social purpose to reimagine cotton supply chains and help textile producers and farmers enjoy better livelihoods. It helps brands access more sustainable cotton and other natural fibers to create transparent, traceable and resilient raw material supply chains.