CottonConnect Summary

CottonConnect is a social business that works with leading retailers and brands to create more sustainable supply chains that benefit smallholder cotton farmers in south Asia and China.

Over four million smallholder farmers produce cotton on less than one hectare

16% of the world’s pesticides are used in growing cotton. It can take up to 2600 litres of water to make one t-shirt and the hazardous chemicals used are harmful to farmworkers, causing acute poisoning. In India alone, over four million smallholder farmers produce cotton on less than one hectare, with farmers often running up huge debts to purchase pesticides and fertilisers in order to protect their crops.

In addition to the issues at farm level, the complexity and lack of transparency of the cotton supply chain means much of this remains invisible to retailers and brands, who typically have little knowledge of the farmers, ginners, spinners, weavers and dyers who provide materials to their manufacturers.

f-Mountain-of-Cotton.jpgCottonConnect is an independent supply chain connector, and was created from a longstanding collaboration between Shell Foundation, Textile Exchange and European retailer C&A, with the aim to address those problems by increasing the demand for and supply of sustainably-produced cotton.

Business Model

CottonConnect works across the cotton supply chain to increase transparency, mitigate risk and optimise efficiency for international retailers – and to help developing world producers increase income and improve livelihoods.

The business helps retailers improve the social and environmental credentials of cotton production – or to meet the certification requirements of industry bodies such as Organic, Fairtrade and Cotton Made in Africa. They work to:

  • Design cotton supply strategies and targets with retailers and brands who purchase finished garments. 
  • Map the customer’s cotton supply chain to understand the origins of the cotton they source, identify farmers, ginners and spinners in the chain and engage new ones in required areas.
  • Build farmer capacity through tailored training delivered by on-the-ground teams in India, China and Pakistan in collaboration with local organisations. (Farmers then apply their learning to grow cotton more sustainable during the next season generating higher yields, lower input costs and health benefits.)
  • Provide procurement support to retailers – incentivising ginners, spinners, weavers and manufacturers to ensure product integrity and create transparent, sustainable supply chains. (This helps retailers and brands to reliably source sustainable cotton and gives farmers the chance to sell their produce to international markets at a fair price.)
  • Monitor and evaluate social, economic and environmental impact to enable the retailer to tell their story and build customer demand for sustainable cotton.

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