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H&M Joins Organic Cotton Project in India

The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (PST) and strategic partner Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) have launched a multi-stakeholder partnership initiative to drive improvements across the organic cotton industry.

Dubbed the Partnership Initiative Organic Cotton in India, the project was formed with the aim of building a fair, environmentally friendly and economically viable organic cotton supply chain. The Partnership Initiative has signed up 10 brands and organizations–Brands Fashion, C&A, Esprit, Formesse, GOTS, Hakron, H&M Group, s.Oliver Group, Tchibo and Fairtrade–to participate.

The farmer-focused project is starting with on-site implementation and runs until 2025. The project is largely financed by the companies and also financially supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Partnership Initiative will work to deliver tangible benefits to at least 12,500 farmers converting to organic farming across India. Implemented through OCA’s established Farm Program, the participating farmers will have access to reliable non-genetically modified (GM) seeds, receive capacity building support on organic practices and be provided long-term procurement commitments and better earnings through premiums.

In turn, thousands of hectares of farmland will be regenerated through organic practices, eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, building long-term soil health and increasing on-farm biodiversity for generations. In addition to the training, which the farmers will receive on organic agronomic practices through OCA’s Farm Program, another program dedicated to promoting decent working conditions will be developed and rolled out to all farmers.

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OCA, working through local farm groups or implementing partners, will support the Partnership Initiative’s brand partners connecting to farm projects in various Indian regions. In return, the initiative partners will provide a sourcing commitment for in-conversion cotton and certified organic cotton, including premium prices to farmers that are higher than the market price. OCA noted that for farmers who want to transition from conventional to organic, the in-conversion process, taking up to three years, can come with challenges such as temporary drops in yield that require extra financial support.

The potential of this Partnership Initiative includes not only an increase of the number of farmers practicing organic agriculture but also a more successful transition to organic cotton with the brand partners’ support and commitments in place for three years.

“Progressive targets for organic cotton sourcing are great, yet they need to be combined with tangible support to farmers, in particular those that are transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture,” Bart Vollaard, executive director at OCA, said. “It is great to work with members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, who understand that they need to go the extra mile to realize their organic cotton ambitions and provide farmers with long-term commitments and better prices. This initiative helps to mobilize more support to farmers during the challenging phase of transitioning to organic practices and deepen our impact by a special focus on decent working conditions. This truly helps accelerate organic cotton’s potential for positive impact.”

Jürgen Janssen, head of the secretariat of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, said the Partnership Initiative has several positive effects for the farmers who earn more and receive greater security, for the textile companies and brands that can purchase more organic cotton, and for the environment.

“It is also a good example of successful private-public financing,” Janssen said. “The companies bear more than three quarters of the costs, while the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development finances the rest.”

Earlier this month, OCA, with funding support from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency Fund for Responsible Business, kicked off another project targeting transparency and fairness across the organic cotton sector. The project, named Textiles in Transition, has attracted brand partners Bestseller, G-Star Raw and Essenza Home as part of their commitment to the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile.

Textiles in Transition aims to improve decent working conditions in organic cotton production, and secure the livelihoods of thousands of farmers while boosting the supply of organic cotton. That project also leverages OCA’s Farm Program in India to support the participating companies in achieving transparency to the source of their fiber while instilling improved buying practices and targeted interventions that improve farmer livelihoods, worker rights and environmental impact.