Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in the textile industry, accounting for one third of fibres manufactured worldwide. Up to 1 billion people depend on the cotton industry for their livelihoods, including 250 million people working in cotton processing and 100 million small farmers cultivating cotton.
The global reach of cotton is wide, but cotton production is struggling with ongoing challenges affecting the ecosystems and communities surrounding cotton farms: soil erosion, yield disparities between countries, poverty among farmers and child (and forced) labour are some of them.
Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) became more popular in the cotton sector in 2014 addressing a range of environmental, social and economic concerns such as pesticide use, water conservation, genetically modified seed dependence, forced and child labour, gender equity and poverty alleviation. In recent years, VSSs have been working to stimulate collaborative actions across the textile supply chain to turn around the cotton sector.
To deal with price instabilities and market uncertainties brought on by the financialization of cotton, stockpiling, national regulations and climate change, the cotton sector must become more sustainable. Certainly, VSSs will continue to have an important role in ensuring that cotton fibre remains competitive while moving its production and consumption toward sustainability.
Can mobilizing the cotton supply chain address these complex sustainability challenges? We will explore these issues further in our cotton report, to be launched in the second half of 2019.