Addressing the risks and building resilience

The cotton industry faces significant challenges and has a complex supply chain – we need to make sure that the business works effectively to benefit both farmers and retailers.

CottonConnect has helped over 100,000 farmers to develop sustainable livelihoods and improved the supply chain of major retailers with positive business results.

BBC R4 Listen to You & Yours follows the subject in more detail and hear experts from across the industry discuss how things are changing. We’ll also be posting more blogs this week looking at how John Lewis is investing in sustainable cotton sourced from smallholder farmers in India – and at how brands need to connect to where their cotton comes from.

The programme focused on some of the very real issues that the cotton industry faces – such as social issues like child labour. The reporter commented that “firms such as Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, H&M, IKEA and Sainsbury’s say that they are working alongside various organisations like Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative and CottonConnect, to improve conditions for farmers and to make the supply chain more transparent.”


Simplifying and improving the communications within the cotton supply chain helps to address security of supply. By getting closer to the farming communities, brands and retailers are able to better understand the communities, the pressures on supply, the issues farmers face, and potential opportunities to adapt and innovate for a more sustainable future.

For retailers like John Lewis, Marks& Spencer and C&A and other fashion brands, securing a sustainable future supply of cotton is vital to its business. Investment in a sustainable cotton supply chain creates greater resilience and dramatic improvements in yield at the cotton harvest. But it also brings significant long-term social and environmental benefits to farmer livelihoods.


The cotton industry affects millions of people across the supply chain – from cotton growers and manufacturers, to distributors and wholesalers. Cotton has a hugely complex supply chain and can be traded, either physically or as a commodity, up to ten times between farm and shop.

CottonConnect works with retailers and brands to connect them to their supply chain.

“Some retailers have no direct connection to where their cotton supply originates, or some of the people and organisations that sit within the complex supply chain,”

says CEO Alison Ward.

“So our job is to connect people and develop programmes that build effective and transparent supply chains – from the retailer to the farmer. And we support local farmer connection to improve livelihoods that ensure consistency and the sustainable security of supply for the cotton in the long term.”

There are more than 100 million cotton farmers around the world and over 90% of them are smallholders in developing countries with small pockets of land (around two hectares) and less than 4% of the world’s cotton is currently produced in a sustainable way.

In addition, 25% of the world’s pesticides are used in growing cotton; it takes 2,800 litres of water to make one t-shirt and hazardous chemicals are often used that can have adverse effects.

In India alone there are more than 4 million smallholder farmers who produce cotton on less than one hectare. Farmers can run up debts to purchase pesticides and fertilisers in order to protect their crops. These small-scale farmers can also be the most vulnerable part of the cotton supply chain; their ability to adapt to more sustainable methods of farming practice and to climate changes will be vital. But, in many cases, they are currently the least equipped to adapt.


The CottonConnect approach to transforming the world’s cotton for good is a model that works. We can help businesses create and develop a transparent supply chain working to the same set of standards. We help mitigate risks in the supply chain and we enable businesses to connect and share their story with their stakeholders.

To find out more about working with us please contact

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