Blog: Leonie BarrieChina cotton call

Leonie Barrie | 2 March 2015

International fashion brands and retailers are being urged to help build a more resilient cotton supply chain in China if they want to secure supplies of the raw material for the future. But can they really make a difference, and why should they care?

The call comes with publication of a new report warning that the falling price of cotton, coupled with the country’s massive stockpiles of the fibre, have left smallholder cotton farmers across the country struggling to earn a living.

Indeed, changes taking place in China’s cotton sector offer both implications and opportunities for brands and retailers, with issues to watch at both the farm and strategic levels.

Businesses with supply chains and operations in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia are benefiting from the world’s lowest labour costs. But they may also be exposed to the highest risks, a new global ranking suggests, including poor working conditions and high levels of child labour and trafficking.

But when it comes to investing in a developing manufacturing country, where capital is limited, should factories spend on their workers in the form of more sophisticated training, or in more sophisticated machinery and IT systems? Which gives better leverage, skills or new technology?

And in other news, a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract has been signed for dockworkers at 29 US West Coast ports, after nine months of discussions; Adidas Group is now using more Better Cotton than ever before; and Italian fashion retailer Benetton is to build a living wage roadmap for its supply chain. An initiative is also launching next month in South Africa to grow a new type of grass that can be used to create zero-waste recyclable textiles.

It also emerged that while spending on apparel was flat in the US in 2014, activewear sales were up, according to new research, as “casual and ‘athleisure’ have taken on a life of their own.”

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