Leading European fashion retailer C&A plans to purchase 1,000 tonnes of sustainably produced African cotton next year in a move that will help improve the living conditions of smallholder farmers in five countries.

The company, which operates nearly 1,500 stores in 19 European countries and has an annual turnover of EUR6.59bn, has joined the scheme's Demand Alliance - and plans to lift its uptake to 1,500 tonnes in 2013 and 2,000 tonnes in 2014.

The company joins the Otto Group, Puma, Anvil and Tchibo who are also partners in the initiative, which works to help some 240,000 smallholder farmers and their families in Benin, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Malawi and Ivory Coast.

"We're happy to respond to our customers' demand for fashion produced in a socially and environmentally sustainable way," says Phil Chamberlain, head of sustainable business development at C&A. "Cotton made in Africa offers us a great opportunity to use a high-value raw material with added social value in our textiles."

Cotton made in Africa provides participating smallholder farmers with cultivation methods that both conserve the environment and raise crop yields, while providing training and education for adults and children.

C&A already offers textiles made from Bio Cotton and sold 26m pieces of these products in the 2010/2011 trading year.