Target is committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton for its owned brand and exclusive national
brand products by 2022

Target is committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton for its owned brand and exclusive national brand products by 2022

US department store retailer Target Corp has pledged to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2022 for its owned and exclusive apparel brands – and has introduced a new policy to help guide the way.

Outlined in its new 'Sustainable Sourcing Policy for Cotton Products,' the retailer aims to achieve full visibility into where the cotton used in its products is grown. It also aspires to "continuous improvement within the interconnected supply chain" through collaboration with farmers and brands, as well as other retailers and organisations. Target will track and validate its progress and share annual updates.

The sustainable cotton policy, which extends to its home and essentials lines, is founded in part upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

The retailer says its priorities are to:

  • Ensure the cotton used in its supply chain is not cultivated or harvested using underage or forced labour;
  • Ensure working conditions in its supply chain are both ethical and compliant with applicable laws; and
  • Optimise production practices to minimise environmental impact, such as water use and pollution, and chemical use.

The policy comes almost a year after the Minneapolis-based company announced its commitments around responsible sourcing and sustainable products. Since then it has shared a closer look at its goals in progress in several areas, including chemicals, packaging and eliminating forced labour.

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Now, Target says it's decision to focus on cotton – a staple fibre in its products and "vital" to its business – will see the retailer leverage its size, scale and influence to help tackle major environmental and social challenges, while growing its investment in transparent and traceable sources.

As one of the largest users of cotton in the US, Target acknowledges it's going to be a "big job", noting the "tricky part" is that there is currently no industry standard definition for 'sustainable cotton'.

To help, the retailer has formed its own definition around a few important pillars: "To us, sustainable production uses water and chemicals as efficiently as possible, with methods that support soil health, and promotes ethical working conditions," Target explains. "In our view, sustainable cotton farming means maximised water efficiency; optimised inputs and chemical use; improved soil health; and ethical working conditions.

As a result, Target has "zeroed in" on four major issues it wants to help cotton producers tackle:

  • Using water as efficiently as possible – especially important in areas where clean water is scarce;
  • Using chemicals and other inputs as efficiently as possible;
  • Improving soil health on the land where they farm; and
  • Promoting ethical working conditions – making sure no forced labour is used during the process.

As part of the retailer's work to develop the cotton policy, Lalit Toshniwal, a principal fabric engineer in Target's product design team, visited farms in India and Africa for a closer look at the different methods used to grow the fibre.

"It was eye-opening to see how access to data and technology, and support from government and local organisations to use sustainable practices, contributes to much better farming conditions all around," Toshniwal explains. "But that's far from the norm, so we're putting our new goal in place to help address some of the biggest obstacles."

According to Toshniwal, Target's efforts will help improve the industry in three big ways.

First, the retailer will partner with its vendors to map the supply chain for each product containing cotton, improving transparency and helping to understand where and how the fibre is grown.

Second, it will rely on programs such as Better Cotton Initiative, Organic and Cotton Leads, which it says can best help address the challenges that fall under its definition of sustainable cotton production.

Target will also support innovative technological developments within cotton farming such as its recent partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the International Space Station to catalyse technological advancements in cotton farming.