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May 6, 2022

Primark in major expansion of Sustainable Cotton Programme

Primark is expanding its Sustainable Cotton Programme, with a pledge to train an additional 125,000 smallholder cotton farmers in more sustainable farming methods in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by the end of 2023 - increasing the expected availability of sustainable cotton for its products by 60%.

By Beth Wright

UK value retailer Primark says the expansion shows further progress towards its commitment that all cotton in its clothes will be organic, recycled or from its Sustainable Cotton Programme by 2027. It will also bring the total number of farmers in the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP) to over 275,000, an expansion of over 80%. The increase cements its position as the largest of its kind of any single fashion retailer, Primark says.

Lynne Walker, director at Primark Cares, says: We developed our Sustainable Cotton programme with our partners almost a decade ago to reduce the impact on the environment, support farmer livelihoods and improve the way we source our cotton. We’re proud of how far it’s come, evolving into the largest of its kind of any single fashion retailer. It has taken time to build a programme of this scale, and the positive impact it has had on the livelihoods of thousands of farmers means we can continue its expansion – benefitting more farmers and supporting our ambition to offer our customers more sustainable options at Primark.

“Our sustainable cotton programme plays an integral role in our long-term vision to make more sustainable clothes affordable for everyone. Over half of our clothes are made with cotton, so by further increasing the number of farmers, we will be able to meet our commitment that all the cotton in our clothing will be organic, recycled or from our programme by 2027.”

The retailer developed the programme and launched its first pilot in India in 2013 in collaboration with agronomic experts, Cotton Connect, and the grassroots organisation, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, with the aim of reducing its impact on the environment, changing the way the business sources its cotton, and improving the livelihoods of farmers. Since then the programme has expanded to Pakistan and Bangladesh with the expertise of local in-market partners and has trained almost 150,000 smallholder farmers, 80% of whom are women.

Primark’s sustainable cotton is grown through a unique process using CottonConnect’s REEL (responsible environment enhanced livelihoods) Programme. Cotton farmers are trained over three years to address what Primark calls an over-dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to preserve biodiversity and help mitigate against climate change. The programme helps build a transparent and resilient supply chain, which gives back to local farming communities.

On average, farmers in the programme use 40% less chemical pesticides and fertilisers and 10% less water used by acre, with a 14% increase in yield and growth in profits by 200%. Moving forward, the programme will be focused on restoring biodiversity, with 100% of farmers in the Programme adopting more regenerative practices by 2030.

The programme supports the Primark commitment that 100% of the cotton in its clothes will be sourced from the Sustainable Cotton Programme, organic or recycled by 2027 and its commitment to make all its products from recycled fibres or more sustainably sourced materials by 2030. Currently, almost 40% of Primark clothing is made from recycled fibres or more sustainably sourced materials. Cotton is the most commonly used fibre in Primark clothes – over half of all Primark clothing are made primarily from cotton – and already today, over a quarter (27%) of cotton clothes are made using PSCP cotton. A further 4% are made from organic cotton, and 2% from recycled cotton.

Alison Ward, CEO at CottonConnect, adds: “We are pleased to further our long-standing partnership with Primark to collaborate on the largest programme of its kind by any single retailer in the fashion industry. Any programme at such scale is complex, but working in close collaboration with Primark and the local partners means we are confident we can support Primark’s ambitions and support the livelihoods of thousands of farmers. We look forward to the next stage of this programme and seeing the positive impact it will have for many more farming communities.”

To ensure traceability of cotton from the programme, Primark has continued its partnership with Oritain to verify the origin of PSCP cotton. Using forensic science, Oritain is able to identify cotton from the programme, giving further reassurance to Primark and its customers that the cotton has come from within the programme.

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