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Sustainably farmed cotton five times less damaging

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

25 Apr 2017


London - The environmental and social footprint of Fairtrade cotton is five times lower than conventionally produced cotton, new research from the Fairtrade Foundation has revealed.

The research released to coincide with Fashion Revolution Week 2017, reveals that Fairtrade farming methods were 97 percent lower for the social elements and 31 percent lower for environmental components in the study, and unless cotton is farmed sustainably, its production leaves a heavy environmental and social toll which will affect its long-term viability.

The aim of the study is to provide fashion brands with a new valuation tool to enhance visibility of their cotton sourcing and deepen understanding of their social and environmental responsibilities, to help them make informed strategic decisions that will help create a more resilient business and be more accountable for their environmental and social impacts, said the Fairtrade Foundation.

The tool translates environmental and social values into the language of business and economics, converting impacts and dependencies into costs and benefits expressed in monetary terms. With an overall indication of cost and benefit, companies can identify trade-offs and synergies in a systematic way.

Fairtrade cotton has less environmental and social footprint

One of the most significant social advantages for Fairtrade farmers was having more income. The research compared community benefits from Fairtrade Premiums, fair wages, income for farmers, engagement of unacceptable labour practices, such as child labour and social cost of overtime. It revealed that Fairtrade cotton farmers tend to have lower social costs and higher social benefits such as fairer wages and investment in local schools.

In addition, Fairtrade cotton also performed “significantly better” than conventional for all environmental KPIs cotton. Areas surveyed included land use, water pollutants, water use, GHG emissions and soil pollutants. It was only for land use where Fairtrade cotton’s cost was a little high as the yield for organic practices for cotton per acre is lower than conventional.

Subindu Garkhel, cotton manager at the Fairtrade Foundation said: “Cotton is an integral part of our lives, from the sheets on our beds to the identity we project through the clothes we wear. Not only that, but cotton also provides livelihoods for millions across the globe.

“But there is a strong cost for people and planet with cultivating the cotton that goes into our clothes, and our study shows that is markedly higher for conventional cotton farming. This research illustrates how Fairtrade empowers farmers to decide their own future, is better for their communities and has a substantially lower footprint than conventional cotton.”

Images: courtsey of Fairtrade Foundation

fairtrade cotton
Fairtrade Foundation