Fashion retailers announce new push to boost traceability in cotton supply chain

Marks & Spencer, online fashion platform Zalando, and fashion giant Bestseller have teamed up as part of a £ 1m initiative to enhance innovation and traceability across the global cotton supply chain.

The Better Cotton program revealed late last week that it had convened a group of leading international retailers and brands to mobilize funding for solutions that can improve traceability in the cotton supply chain.

The initial £ 1m tranche of funding is to be spent on a number of initiatives across the cotton supply chain, Better Cotton said. Recipients include tracking platforms and other technology solutions that trace cotton’s provenance, market mechanisms that boost value for farmers, as well as other measures designed to enhance farmers working conditions, competitiveness, and access to finance.

Alan McClay, CEO of Better Cotton, hailed the new ‘traceability panel’ as a major milestone in the group’s ongoing effort to enhance the transparency of cotton supply chains.

“Many fashion retailers simply don’t know where the cotton in their clothes comes from,” he said. “The reasons for not knowing are numerous, and in many cases, legitimate. This traceability panel is a major step towards addressing the reasons behind this inability to trackback to the source.

A recent study from KPMG found that just 15 per cent of apparel companies have full visibility of the raw materials that go into their products.

McClay said Better Cotton aimed to address sourcing and intellectual property issues “head on”, a mission he said would require investment.

“Higher supply chain assurance comes at a cost – as verifying the exact origins of a garment requires more checks and controls – so the investment of additional resources will be critical,” he said.

The introduction of new rules geared at tackling misleading green claims in various countries in recent months will mean that fashion retailers will have to ramp up traceability in the cotton supply chain if they want to credible claim to have a sustainable or eco-friendly product, Better Cotton noted.

Katharine Beachem, head of materials and sustainability at M&S, said the British firm was proud to be part of the panel tackling sourcing issues in the cotton supply chain.

“Having worked in partnership with Better Cotton for over a decade, at M&S ​​we have been at the forefront of sourcing more responsible cotton,” she said. “We met our commitment of reaching 100 per cent responsibly sourced cotton in our clothing in 2019 – but there is still work to be done to improve traceability.”

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