Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in the world and is essential for the manufacture of a wide variety of clothing and home products. The cotton plant provides seed for animal feed, while lint is converted into fibre. According to CottonConnect
, cotton accounts for almost 40% of global textile production. It provides income for more than 250m people worldwide and employs 7% of all labour in developing countries.
However, unless cotton is grown sustainably it leaves a significant environmental and social footprint. For example, it can take between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg cotton (depending on where it’s grown). Its cultivation can also be highly chemical intensive where the unsafe use of chemicals has the potential to cause severe health impacts on workers in the field and on surrounding ecosystems. While a number of initiatives have been developed to improve the sustainability of cotton production – total production of more sustainable cotton is still only estimated at about 15% of global production.
Cotton is a very important raw material for M&S. Over the past decade we have been working to develop a practical approach to sourcing cotton more sustainably in order to help secure our access to this raw material in years to come as well as improving the lives of people and communities.
Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable consumption and production, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity.
Our goal is to ensure that 100% of the cotton for our clothing continues to be sustainably sourced - a goal we first met in March 2019. By 2025, we aim to have increased the proportion of Fairtrade, organic and recycled sources to 25%.
Cotton is very important to M&S. Within our Clothing & Home business it is the largest raw material and on average we use around 50,000 tonnes of lint cotton each year, of that around 45,000 tonnes is used in our clothing. Our cotton fibre mainly comes from India, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Brazil, USA, Africa and Australia and our supply chain is complex. We don’t own farms or factories and don’t purchase raw materials directly. Most of the raw materials that go into our products are sourced in a global market and cotton is no exception. As a result, traceability is a real challenge, so it is hard for us to fully understand our supply chain beyond our direct supplier. This is compounded by the fact that we use less than 0.25% of the world’s annual production of cotton so our leverage or influence in the sector is minimal. Nonetheless we expect all parties in our supply chains to be progressively working towards sourcing more sustainable cotton.
We have a proud history of sourcing cotton from more sustainable sources. We work with a wide range of multi-stakeholder and industry platforms to ensure our knowledge remains up to date in this rapidly evolving landscape.
Over the last few years we have been evolving our approach to one which is both practical and reflects our size and influence in this industry.
Our approach to sourcing more sustainable cotton is as follows: