The top 13 companies using sustainable cotton

The top 13 companies using sustainable cotton

While leading international retailers C&A, H&M, M&S and Tchibo have joined Swedish furniture giant Ikea as 'frontrunners' in using sustainable cotton, big brand progress overall still falls short, according to new research.

The independent research, published by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, Solidaridad and WWF, assesses the performance of 75 of the largest cotton-using companies.

And while it found leading brands have improved their performance on sustainable cotton, efforts are still driven by just five companies 'leading the way,' who score 50-100 points in the overall ranking.

The 'Cotton Ranking' report, which was first published last year, aims to highlight progress achieved and opportunities for improvement that will accelerate transformation of the cotton market towards sustainability. In 2017, twice as many companies (75) were assessed as in 2016 (37). An additional four Indian companies were also assessed separately. 'Cotton Ranking' report, which was first published last year, aims to highlight progress achieved and opportunities for improvement that will accelerate transformation of the cotton market towards sustainability. In 2017, twice as many companies (75) were assessed as in 2016 (37). An additional four Indian companies were also assessed separately.

Assessing the performance of 75 of the largest cotton-using companies, the research suggests sustainability efforts are driven by Ikea, Tchibo, C&A Group, M&S and H&M. A further eight companies are ranked as 'well on the way', scoring 25-50 points, including Adidas, Otto Group, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co, VF Corp, Tesco and Kering.

Meanwhile, 18 more are ranked as 'starting the journey', scoring 5-25 points. These include Decathalon Group, Hugo Boss, PVH Corp, Gap Inc, and Spanish clothing giant Inditex. The remaining 44 companies, including Ascena Retail Group, HanesBrands, Under Armour, Next Plc, and Ralph Lauren, scored less than 5 points and were ranked as 'not yet started'.

All other companies not listed in the report's main graph scored zero. These included Amazon, Footlocker, L Brands, Max Mara, Nordstrom Inc, and Walmart.

Company scores and ranking

Proportionately more companies have sourcing commitments compared to 2016 but only 11 have time-bound targets to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2020 or earlier and overall uptake of sustainable cotton remains "relatively low", the report finds.

While cotton produced through sustainable practices is expected to make up 15% of global supply for the 2016/17 season and 20% in 2017/18, up from 12% in 2015/16, only just over a fifth (21%) of this is actually sourced by companies as sustainable. The rest is sold as conventional cotton with brands and retailers citing low consumer demand, complexity of supply chains and additional cost as blocks to sourcing, it adds.

"There is no reason why all large companies can't match C&A, H&M, M&S, Tchibo GmbH and IKEA on cotton sustainability," says Richard Holland, WWF International. "There is now lots of information, experience and advice about sourcing more sustainable cotton available through credible programmes such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)."

Of 25 companies assessed in both 2016 and 2017, 18 improved their performance with most increasing their sourcing of more sustainable cotton. The top five companies from 2016 (IKEA, C&A, H&M, Adidas and Nike) all increased uptake as a percentage of total volumes used by approximately 20% in 2017, with C&A making the biggest advance and almost doubling its score.

In addition, 13 companies significantly strengthened their policies compared with 2016, with Gap, Ikea and M&S making the biggest advances.

"Uptake of more sustainable cotton is our best chance of protecting worker health and the environment from pesticide pollution," explains Keith Tyrell, executive director, Pesticides Action Network UK. "Despite overall policy progress, it's disappointing that none of the companies have adopted policies to completely eliminate highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) in the cultivation of the cotton they use."

Nine companies improved traceability with Marks & Spencer, C&A and H&M all expanding their public lists of suppliers.

"There are still too many companies doing little or nothing about sustainable cotton," adds Isabelle Roger, global cotton programme manager, Solidaridad. "Public commitments by CEOs to sourcing are critical to sector change and making sustainable cotton the norm."

The report adds improvements since the first ranking in 2016 are "encouraging and suggest that leaders will continue to lead the way, driving sustainability in the sector". Positive outcomes include more companies with policies and commitments; more companies using more sustainable cotton; and increased overall uptake of more sustainable cotton.

Apparel brands failing to deliver on sustainable cotton

However, while significant positive progress is evident, the report points out there is still much to do:

  • Only around half of all assessed companies have a policy on cotton sustainability;
  • Company performance on uptake and traceability is considerably lower than on policy, even among leaders;
  • Only 11 companies have time-bound commitments or targets for greater use of more sustainable cotton; and
  • Uptake of more sustainable cotton remains relatively low with most of the heavy lifting being done by a handful of leaders.

PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF are calling on all companies using large volumes of cotton to set time-bound targets to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2020, progressively increase the volumes of more sustainable cotton used in their products, and report publicly on progress to stakeholders.

The research was conducted independently by Aidenvironment, which scored company performance across three areas: policy, uptake, and traceability.

Click here to download the full report.