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Textile Sustainability Conference Calls for Cotton Farmers to Take Centre Stage

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One of the biggest events in the sustainability landscape, Textile Exchange’s 2017 Textile Sustainability Conference took place in Washington from 9th-13th October. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Textile Exchange kept this year’s focus on ‘United By Action: Catalyzing The Sustainable Development Goals In Textiles’ and tried to identify the action items needed to develop a roadmap for the industry till 2030. Senior officials of top retailers and brands like H&M, PVH Corp, Target, C&A, Ikea, Walmart, M&S, and almost every stakeholder segment of the industry participated in the event. Indian participants informed Apparel Online about their strong stand on the urge to take some real action and the need of cotton farmers to take the centre stage.

The beauty of the event was the abundance of topics discussed with diverse stakeholders. Some of the key topics widely covered were ‘Setting Apparel Sustainability Goals with Sound Science’; ‘Putting Women and Children First: The Social Agenda’; ‘The Post-Consumer Textile Collections Conundrum’; ‘Data Collection to Measure Impacts in Your Supply Network’; ‘Organic Cotton and Preferred Fibre & Material Round Tables’, and many more. Though deemed as ‘small’ as per some participant’s observation, Indian participation was also actively noticed at the event as representatives from Pratibha Syntex, Armstrong Spinning Mills, Mahima Group, Chetna Organic, Action for Social Advancement (ASA), Goodweave, to mention some, participated in the event. Sreeranga Rajan, CEO, Dibella India, Bangalore who is also a board member of Textile Exchange and has been attending this conference from last 8 years, shared, “Some of the roadmaps discussed by brands towards their commitment for 100 per cent use of sustainable cotton was really good. It is time for action not just to appreciate and highlight the importance of sustainability, but rather hopefully by next year in Milan, we will be even more clear about what and how we want to achieve sustainability in the next few years.” Sreeranga further added that some of the discussions regarding recycling and upcycling were really progressive. He discussed the sustainability measures being taken up by his organization to use waste to create paper which is chemical-free as well as only GRS-certified paper.

Ashis Mondal, Founder Director, Action for Social Advancement, Bhopal, an NGO working for farmers, strongly highlighted at the event that Indian farmers are not getting their share for producing organic cotton. It is therefore the need of the hour to clean up the system failing which there will be no future in this regard. To put it in his own words, “Producing organic cotton is a costly affair and all stakeholders need to convey this message to the consumer and make sure that farmers get their share as most of the farmers are having small farms and are totally dependent on their crops.” He also added that certification trade has become more important, and industry should decide upon organic cotton or sustainability with farmer’s first approach and policy. Soil Association, UK also raised concern about the alternative approaches, including organic, creating a better vision for cotton farming in India. It launched a report ‘Failed Promises: The rise and fall of GM cotton in India’ sharing how genetically modified (GM) cotton grew to almost obliterate all other cotton production in India, and how the promised GM success rapidly turned to failure, with lethal results for farmers. It was also emphasized at the event that brands should be given financial support for seeds development required for cotton cultivation.

Sreeranga Rajan (in specs), CEO, Dibella India has been attending this conference from last 8 years

Some interesting suggestions were also given by Indian representatives like Arun Ambatipudi, ED, Chetna Organic, Hyderabad who stated that brands making money from Indian organic cotton should come forward, support, and create many more organizations like Chetna. According to him,“Rather than just having a big group, many small- or medium-level coalition groups are better options to support farmers, and women engaged in cotton farming.” He also added that women empowerment at cotton farming level needs suitable sustainable investment, as these women need to be trained and allotted regular work which they can easily handle, like handwork or hand embroidery. Arun shared that African nations or other countries will take at least two decades to increase their organic or sustainable cotton output, so brands should support India in this regard as part of their CSR efforts for a better promising future.

On the buyer side, it was good to see that nearly 36 top brands like Timberland, Burberry, Adidas, Ikea, Nike, etc., pledged to use 100 per cent sustainable cotton by 2025. The pledge was named the sustainable cotton communiqué. La Rhea Pepper, MD, Textile Exchange commented on this, “The industry is awakening to the necessity of sustainably grown cotton. It is great to see additional brands joining this initiative to accelerate the momentum of cotton production in a way that will positively impact smallholder farmers, water quality and soil health.”

Zachary Angelini, Environmental Stewardship Manager, Timberland also said, “At Timberland, we strive to be earthkeepers in everything we do and we recognize sustainable cotton sourcing as a major part of this goal. Studies have shown the positive social benefits to farming communities as well as the potential of these practices to sequester carbon into the soil. This is an exciting work as we move beyond just minimizing environmental impacts to strategically creating real environmental and social benefits within the supply chain.”

Recycled Polyester Working Group, with more than 45 renowned textile, apparel, and retail companies—including major brands such as Adidas, Dibella, Eileen Fisher, GAP, etc. are committed to support an increase in their use of Recycled Polyester (rPET) by at least 25% by 2020. The organizations that are participating represent the value chain which includes brands, retailers, suppliers and associated industry organizations. Pratibha Syntex is also included in this list.