12 February 2020
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WWF reveals latest sustainable cotton ranking of global companies
Adidas takes top spot for sustainable cotton. Too many global companies still score zero.
Adidas has surged ahead, to become a global leader in sourcing sustainable cotton. From 6th place in the last ranking, they now source 100% of their cotton from sustainable sources and lead the Cotton Ranking 2020. IKEA, previously the most established brand for sustainable cotton, is now in second, with H&M in third. M&S is the best UK performer.
Just before London fashion week kicks off, sustainable fashion has had a further boost with the launch of the latest cotton ranking. Overall the Cotton Ranking 2020 reveals significant progress by big brands toward more sustainable cotton. But also that the divide is growing between companies that take their responsibilities seriously and the many companies that do not.
75% of sustainable cotton gets sold as conventional cotton
While 21% of global cotton production is now more sustainable, only 5% of the total global production is actively bought as sustainable by retailers and brands. The rest has to be sold as conventional cotton, because not enough of the big brands explicitly shop for more sustainable cotton.
Isabelle Roger, Global Cotton Programme Manager, Solidaridad Network, says: “Shockingly, three quarters of sustainable cotton is still sold as conventional cotton. Farmer groups end up selling the majority of their more sustainable produce as conventional cotton, due to lack of demand. If the failing brands took their responsibilities seriously, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
More big brands embrace sustainable cotton
The Cotton Ranking 2020 is published by three NGOs; Pesticide Action Network UK, Solidaridad, and WWF, based on research conducted and compiled by independent consultancy Aidenvironment. 77 cotton-using companies, estimated to use more than 10,000 metric tonnes of cotton annually, are assessed on their public policies and commitments, how much of the cotton they use is actually from sustainable sources, and on how open they are with their supply chain traceability.
Progress has been exemplified by companies like Bestseller (Jack&Jones, Vera Moda, ONLY) and Decathlon, which in 2017 were ranked as ‘starting the journey,’ but are now ‘leading the way,’ thanks to the sharp increase in their uptake of sustainable cotton. Almost all companies who made public commitments have made substantial improvements, including well-established trailblazer IKEA, and the new front-runner, Adidas.
The number of companies lagging behind is largely unchanged since 2017. Around one-third of companies, including global names like Amazon, Footlocker, Max Mara, Giorgio Armani, Trendy International Group (in a joint venture with SuperDry) and Forever 21, all scored zero in the ranking, and show an unwillingness to change, despite increasing global concerns about worsening water scarcity, pollution, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity.
Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF-UK said: “Leading British companies are showing international leadership on sourcing cotton that doesn’t damage the environment - but the gap between the best and the rest is simply not good enough. More companies must choose to step up to their responsibilities and make concrete commitments to use more sustainable cotton - because in 2020, consumers know more and demand more from their favourite brands.”
A majority of companies now have public commitments
The report also reveals that, for the first time, more than half of ranked companies now have commitments to use sustainable cotton; but the three NGOs express concern that, overall, companies are not achieving as much as they should.
11 big brands, including Nike, H&M and C&A group, have committed to sourcing 100% of their cotton from more sustainable sources by the end of this year. This figure includes IKEA, Adidas and Marks and Spencer, who are aiming to maintain their 100% sustainable sourcing track records. The report partners encourage them all to not only meet and sustain their target over time, but also to uphold their commitment to making the global cotton sector more sustainable, and have a deeper positive impact on cotton farming communities and their environment.
M&S’s Head of Sustainable Business Carmel McQuaid said, “As the UK’s biggest clothing retailer we source around 50,000 tonnes of the material each year. Cotton is used in around half our Clothing & Home products so it’s so important to us that it has been produced in the right way – with respect for the environment and the people that grow and pick it. We’re proud to work with WWF, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and others to support more sustainable cotton practices, it’s something we’ve been working on for over ten years and will remain a focus for M&S as we continue to ensure 100% of the cotton for our clothing is more sustainably sourced.”
More time-bound commitments and transparency needed
Brands that are ‘leading the way’ perform better than the rest in all areas, but the difference is most marked in how much of the cotton they source is from more sustainable sources. Only 23 companies report on the absolute volume of more sustainable cotton they source, and most have shared this in confidence with the researchers. Only 11 companies publish how much cotton they source in total.
Keith Tyrell, Director of PAN UK adds: “Companies are not transparent enough about their supply chains and purchasing practices. We need to see more time-bound targets, higher proportions of more sustainable cotton being sourced, and transparency on where their cotton really comes from.”
For more information on the Cotton Ranking 2020, please contact:
Hilary Longurst, Media Manager at WWF-UK: HLonghurst@wwf.org.uk
Notes to editors
- The Cotton Ranking 2020 can be found here: http://sustainablecottonranking.org
- The 2020 version uses the same research methodology and web presentation as in 2017.
- The Cotton Ranking has been partly financed by the governments of The Netherlands and Sweden and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative. Responsibility for the content lies entirely with the creators.
- The research for the Cotton Ranking has been done by Aidenvironment.
Read more about M&S’s approach to sustainable cotton - https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/sustainability/quick-reads/cotton-with-a-heart