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Only 9 fashion companies doing bare minimum to address unsustainable cotton, finds new report


13 Jun 2023


Global Europe

When it comes to their use of cotton, the vast majority of international brands (89%) are non-transparent, unsustainable and show little progress towards improving labour conditions, finds the 2023 Cotton Ranking, published by Solidaridad Europe and the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK).

This is despite a wide range of possible actions available to corporations that can help them mitigate, address or even reverse the worst environmental and social impacts of the cotton production on which they rely, reveals the paper ‘Cotton and Corporate Responsibility’, published simultaneously with the Ranking.

Unsustainable cotton is a choice

Much of the cotton purchased by major companies does not meet even the requirements of basic certification, meaning that its source cannot be verified to be meeting minimal standards. As of publication only 9 of the 82 largest cotton-sourcing companies in the world are found to be sourcing 99% or all of their cotton from certified sources; Decathlon, H&M, Ikea, Adidas, Columbia, Marks & Spencer, C&A, Lojas Renner and Puma. All other companies are failing to achieve even this, with 30 companies achieving a score of zero in the ranking.

Many brands cite complex trade realities as a barrier to progress but the first published Cotton Paper ‘Cotton and Corporate Responsibility’, which addresses corporate social responsibility in the sector, invalidates this argument and provides clear recommendations. These recommendations include investing in smallholder climate adaptation, updating purchasing practices to ensure better pay for cotton producers, and becoming transparent on cotton sourcing, but even these are just a start.

“In reality, given the resources available to big brands, unsustainable cotton is a choice. A bad one. But it doesn’t have to be one we live with. Brands and retailers can make new decisions. They can choose to be more transparent in their operations, and about their suppliers. They can choose to take on the complex question of fair pay, rather than use it as an excuse. And they can choose to engage with all actors along their supply chain, rather than hiding behind intermediaries.” says Tamar Hoek of Solidaridad Europe.

Current corporate practices leading to social and environmental harm

How is value along the cotton chain distributed? This graphic shows how much each stakeholder in the value chain receives from the sale of a cotton T-shirt. 

Currently smallholder cotton farmers, who make up the majority of the world’s cotton producers, live on the edge of poverty and do not receive a fair income/wage, have no access to training and no support for climate adaptation. With the impending impact of climate change likely to reduce or destroy yields across every cotton growing region, smallholder farmers will not be able to ensure reliable production and will be pushed even further into poverty.

The latest Ranking and the ‘Cotton and Corporate Responsibility’ paperreveal the negative impacts of the current corporate practices on cotton workers and the environment, with low margins pushing farmers to work for less money and to gamble on hazardous agrochemicals in an effort to stay above the poverty line.

"Nearly half of smallholder cotton farmers are poisoned by pesticides every year. Zero pesticide poisoning is possible today if textile & apparel companies choose to take responsibility for their supply chains and deepen investment in supporting a transition to agroecological cotton production" says Rajan Bhopal, PAN UK.

A new hub on cotton sustainability

The 2023 Cotton Ranking and the ‘Cotton and Corporate Responsibility’ paper mark the first publications of the newly launched Sustainable Cotton Hub (

The Cotton Hub will bring together experts from organizations working in and around the cotton sector, such as Solidaridad and PAN UK. The aim is to expose the sustainability challenges of cotton production, and explore the host of contributing economic, labour and environmental factors. Concretely the platform will always provide recommendations on how major stakeholders can address these critical issues.

Future papers will cover topics including climate change, nature and inequality.

Learn more and download the paper about the corporate role in making cotton sustainable here.

Read the latest cotton ranking here.

For more information and interviews with PAN UK and Solidaridad, please contact:

Bram Verkerke
Press officer Solidaridad Europe
+31 6296 01233

Keith Tyrell
Director, Pesticide Action Network UK
+44 (0)7588 706224

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