Dr. Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, speaking at last week’s summit, said the organization’s role in fashion’s environmental efforts is to enable verifiable goals for U.S. cotton production and a level of data from participating producers, and provide that information to the textile supply chain.
Adams said during his conversation on “Creating a Smarter Cotton Future,” with Edward Hertzman, president and founder of Sourcing Journal, and executive vice president of FMG, that the Protocol’s main objective is to enroll U.S. cotton farmers in a program that advances the issue of responsibly grown cotton production and drives continuous improvement in key metrics.
The participating farmers then provide field-level analysis data such as fertilizer usage, field cultivation and other “sophisticated information that allows us to collect, aggregate and provide to the textile supply chain,” Adams said.
Having this data gives brands and retailers the critical assurances they need that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower environmental and social risk.
Hertzman, noting that sustainability has become an “evolving process of continuous improvement,” not reliant on a single program of entity, asked Adams how the program can ensure that farmers’ practices continue to evolve.
One way the program does that, Adams said, is that as farmers document what they are doing to grow cotton, it tells that how they rate on key environmental measures such as land-use efficiency, energy and water use, and greenhouse gas emissions compared, for instance, to a state or national average. The Trust Protocol gives evidence to the sustainability credentials that are proven via Field to Market, measured via the Field Calculator and verified with Control Union Certifications.
“So, they get some feedback on knowing where they stand and they can see how their peers are doing,” he said. “Hopefully, that gives them some opportunities to seek to improve, to be even more efficient with their resources.”
In addition, farmers are asked what areas they would like to improve upon or get involved in, and the Protocol can then look to provide resources to make changes in areas such as cover crops or irrigation.
Turning to the rampant forced labor allegations rocking China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Adams said the program does query farmers about labor practices, such as wages and safety procedures.
“That’s part of the message we give to brands and retailers, that the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol provides not only the environmental data, but also mitigates some of the social and labor risk,” he said.
The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has grown to include more than 300 cotton producers that have completed the requirements for participation, as well as more than 200 mills and manufacturers and between 25 and 30 brands and retailers, he noted. This includes Gap Inc. and its Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta chains, as well as U.K. retailers Next plc and Byford. The Trust Protocol also has welcomed the first U.S. mills, the first members in Latin America, and Advance Denim, one of China’s top three denim manufacturers.
“As we look forward in 2021, we’d like to be able to double the level of participation by cotton producers,” Adams said. “An objective for us going forward is to be able to take the aggregate information we have accumulated and present it to brands and retailers in a way that is useful to them.”
The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol is overseen by a multistakeholder board composed of representatives from brands and retailers, civil society and independent sustainability experts, as well as the cotton-growing industry, including growers, ginners, merchants, wholesalers and cooperatives, mills and cottonseed handlers.