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European Groups Join to Promote Sustainable and Organic Cotton

Two European groups announced a strategic cooperation aimed at promoting the creation of fair and transparent supply chains, from organic cotton farmers to consumers.

The cooperation between the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) and the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles focuses on several key areas. One is to increase awareness and knowledge of brands, retailers and farmers on practical approaches and solutions to improve the availability and impact of organic cotton.

The second is to share resources and capacity-building for small-scale farmers for efficient and beneficial cultivation of organic cotton, while the third is to jointly develop supporting tools for brands and retailers to provide relevant information for sustainable sourcing.

“At OCA, we support farm-level interventions because we believe that by supporting the farmer, we strengthen the sector and we safeguard the planet,” Bart Vollaard, executive director of the Amsterdam-based organization, said. “For this positive effect to be fully realized, we need commitment and collaboration across the whole sector. The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles understands the power of collaboration and knows that by pooling forces, their members can use their combined strengths to initiate broader change in production countries.”

Vollaard said with this strategic cooperation, the groups aim to mobilize and support more brands and retailers in taking direct action in their own supply chains to secure their organic cotton at the farm level and deliver tangible benefits to farmers, such as better prices and secure uptake for their organic cotton and access to organic seeds and training.

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He added that OCA now joins with the partnership’s members goals of increasing their share of sustainable cotton by 2025 to a total of 70 percent and the proportion of organic cotton contained in it to 20 percent.

For the 2018/19 harvest year, production of organic cotton increased 31 percent over the previous period–the second-largest harvest on record after 2009/10–and shows promise for continued growth, according to pre-Covid reporting in Textile Exchange’s 2020 Organic Cotton Market Report.

“The market for certified organic cotton poses one of the mysteries in our efforts for a fairer and more sustainable textiles and garment industry,” Jürgen Janssen, head of the Partnership Secretariat, said. “Brands and retailers say they struggle to get their hands on the material whilst many farmers complain that they have to sell their organic produce through conventional channels without any premiums.

“By entering into a strategic cooperation with OCA, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles strives to increase the leverage for change in organic cotton supply chains to solve this mystery and increase production and availability of certified organic cotton,” Janssen added. “Building more and stronger links between supply and demand plays an important role in this endeavor as this will reduce risk at farm level thus enabling more small-scale farmers to convert their production to organic and sell their produce at a premium.”

Based in Germany, The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles is a multi-stakeholder initiative with members from the fields of business, politics and the civil society with the objective of achieving social, environmental and economic improvements all along the textile supply chain.

In the United States, the Cotton Trust Protocol just completed a one-year pilot phase and has now entered a new phase that welcomes brands and retailers. The Cotton Trust Protocol is a new system for responsibly grown cotton that will provide annual data for six areas of sustainability in line with the United Nations Sustainability Goals.