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Our Sustainable Cotton Programme - Primark Cares Partners

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Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme

The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP) was launched in 2013 to understand and reduce the environmental impact of our cotton and support the livelihoods of cotton farmers.

What is the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme?

Cotton is often grown by farmers on small farms in rural communities in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These farmers often have limited exposure to more sustainable cotton farming methods and little to no access to support or formal training.

That’s why, in 2013, we teamed up with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to create the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP). Our objective was to understand and reduce the environmental impact of our cotton, support the livelihoods of cotton farmers and explore how we could change the way we sourced cotton.

The programme launched with 1,251 female farmers in Gujarat, India. Ten years on, it has grown to become the largest of its kind for a single fashion retailer.

How does the programme work in practice?

Building resilience among farming communities is at the centre of our PSCP. Cotton farmers are trained to reduce their use of water and dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, in addition to learning new skills relating to seed selection, land preparation, sowing, crop management and harvesting. The training is aligned to CottonConnect’s REEL Regenerative code.

The farmers use their new skills to reduce the costs of growing cotton, boost their cotton output (yield) and therefore their profits, and many have used the extra money to invest in farm equipment, educate their children, or improve their housing or lifestyle.

As part of our ambition to use more regenerative agricultural practices within our PSCP by 2030, a pilot group of farmers in our programme are also receiving specific training on practices to improve farm-level biodiversity and soil health. 3,000 farmers are now in the 3rd year of the pilot.

10 years of the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme

2023 marks 10 years of investing in farmers in our cotton supply chains through our PSCP across India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In that time, training has been provided to 299,388 farmers through our partners CottonConnect and local partners the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Myrada in India; the Rural Education & Economic Development Society (REEDS) in Pakistan and Thengamara Mohila Sabuj Sangha in Bangladesh. This year, we have taken our PSCP to Turkey, where we’re running a pilot.

Through the programme we’ve also offered support in essential life skills to women farmers in Bangladesh and Pakistan, helping to promote self-reliance and financial independence.

This year marks the beginning of a new decade in which our PSCP will continue to support the education of farmers in the context of a changing climate.

Our Sustainable Cotton Farmers And Trainers

Meet the Farmers and Trainers of the PSCP

Most farmers in our PSCP are smallholders (a small farm operating under a small-scale agriculture model) and 80% of the programme participants are women. To mark 10 years of the programme, we’re celebrating some of the remarkable women within it.

Why is cotton important for Primark?

We use a range of manmade and natural fibres, but cotton is the main natural fibre found in our products.

That’s why, as part of our shift to using recycled and more sustainably sourced materials in our clothes, we’ve made a commitment that 100% of the cotton in our clothes will be organic, recycled or sourced from our Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme by 2027. It also underpins our commitment to make all our products from recycled or more sustainably sourced materials by 2030.

We introduced the cotton from our PSCP into our popular women’s nightwear range in 2017. It is now used across all major product categories and departments, including menswear, womenswear, kidswear and homeware. Today, 46% of our cotton clothing units sold contained cotton that was either organic, recycled or sourced from our Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme.

The programme has enabled us to increase the amount of more sustainably sourced cotton available for our products, while also creating a more transparent cotton supply chain.

Enhancing the traceability of the cotton in our clothes

The size and complexity of our product supply chain makes traceability a challenge but it’s something we continue to focus on.

This was one of our ambitions when we started our Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP) in 2013. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure our PSCP cotton is segregated and traceable. We use CottonConnect’s system called TraceBale which helps us track and segregate the cotton from farmers in our PSCP as it passes through our supply chain to the ginners (responsible for separating cotton fibres from the seeds) and spinners (responsible for turning cotton fibre into workable yarn or thread).

Given the complexity of the cotton supply chain, we wanted to go further, and we were one of the first high street retailers to partner with Oritain, a specialist scientific verification firm. While TraceBale gives us better visibility over the journey of the cotton from the PSCP farmers to ginners and spinners in our supply chain, Oritain uses forensic science techniques to confirm the origin of our PSCP cotton.

Oritain’s forensic science techniques have been used in criminal investigations for more than 40 years and are now used to confirm the origin of our PSCP cotton. That’s because cotton naturally absorbs different levels of naturally occurring chemical elements specific to the local climate and geological conditions it’s grown in, creating a unique ‘Origin Fingerprint’ that allows Oritain to pinpoint its source.

We combine the data from Oritain with the TraceBale database to help verify the cotton we sell genuinely comes from farmers in our PSCP.

This year, we established a Transparency and Traceability team, now seven strong, within the Sourcing team to help implement a new traceability programme, initially piloting with 11 key suppliers. Over the last two years, we’ve been building a partnership with a market-leading platform for supply chain traceability and compliance, TrusTrace. This traceability platform allows us to gather data from the full supply chain of a product, from its raw materials all the way through to finished product. We’ll use the information to better understand and manage our supply chain.

Oritain

To date, Oritain has mapped the sources of more than 90% of the world’s cotton in their databases, including the locations in which our PSCP operates. Fabric and yarn can be tested against the genuine ‘Origin Fingerprint’ stored in the database to see if they match.

We’ve worked with Oritain since 2018 to validate samples taken at various stages of the PSCP supply chain – from the farms themselves, when the cotton has gone through the ginning process and subsequently after the spinning process.

Supporting Farmers in the Face of Climate Change

All PSCP farmers in Pakistan were affected to varying degrees by the floods in June 2022 which caused damage to crops, livestock, houses and community infrastructure. We worked closely with CottonConnect and REEDS to assess the damage and to understand what support they needed. The Primark Flood Relief Project was established and £140,000 was given to support the setup of 20 mobile medical and veterinary camps. These camps provided support to 2,000 people and 3,000 livestock. 250 families also received goats and hens, while 130 hand pumps and community toilets damaged by the floods were repaired and rebuilt.

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