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Primark announces fivefold increase in its Sustainable Cotton Programme

  • 160,000 cotton farmers to be trained in more environmentally-friendly farming methods by the end of 2022
  • Programme extends into China for the first time, and enrols thousands more farmers in India and Pakistan, to bring even more sustainable cotton, traced from farm to store, to Primark customers

28th August 2019

Primark has today announced a significant expansion of its Sustainable Cotton Programme, with plans to train more than 160,000 independent cotton farmers in sustainable farming methods across three of its key sourcing countries by the end of 2022. The move increases the number of farmers enrolled in the programme to more than five times the current size. The expansion marks an important part of the retailer’s ongoing commitment to minimising its impact on the environment and bringing more sustainably-sourced cotton to customers at affordable prices.

Cotton is the main natural fibre used to make many Primark products – from pyjamas, t-shirts and jeans, to babygrows, bedding and towels. Cotton is often grown by farmers in rural communities in countries including India, China and Pakistan, where knowledge of environmentally-friendly farming methods is limited. Since 2013, Primark has been working with agricultural experts CottonConnect and local partners to train female farmers in India to use less water and chemicals. By starting at the very beginning of the supply chain, the cotton can be directly traced from cotton field through manufacture to delivery to Primark’s stores. This gives the retailer and its customers complete confidence in the source of the sustainable cotton used, its environmentally friendly credentials, and the positive impact on farmers’ livelihoods.

In a major step forward, the programme has now expanded into China – one of the largest cotton-growing countries in the world and a key sourcing location for Primark. Primark is working with CottonConnect, alongside their implementation partner the Heping Cotton Farmers’ Cooperative, to introduce over 80,000 independent cotton farmers in China to the programme. Additional male and female farmers will also be enrolled onto Primark’s existing programmes in India and Pakistan meaning that, by 2022, more than 160,000 farmers will be equipped with the knowledge and means to grow cotton using more natural farming methods.

Each farmer that goes through the three-year programme is trained on the most appropriate farming techniques for their land, from seed selection, sowing, soil, water, pesticide and pest management, to picking, fibre quality, grading and storage of the harvested cotton. As well as minimising environmental impact, the programme greatly improves the livelihoods’ of the cotton farmers through increased income, achieved by increasing their cotton yields as well as helping to save on input costs including water, chemical fertiliser and pesticide usage. In Pakistan, where the programme launched just last year, those who have completed their first year of training have seen a yield increase of 11.2% and a 12.9% reduction in input costs, resulting in an average profit increase of 26.8%. Many of the farmers have used their increased profits to invest in equipment for their farms, educate their children or improve their housing and lifestyle.

The programme’s expansion comes amidst growing demand from customers for sustainable cotton products at affordable prices. Primark first introduced sustainably sourced cotton from the programme into one of its most popular product lines – women’s pyjamas – under its Primark Cares initiative in 2017. More than 14 million pairs of pyjamas have since been sold, in addition to 3 million pairs of jeans, and six million duvet covers and towels made with sustainable cotton tracked through the programme at no extra cost to the customer. The expansion into China and increased farmer numbers will enable Primark to move one step closer to its long-term ambition of using 100% sustainably sourced cotton across its entire product range.

Alison Ward, CEO at CottonConnect, said:

“We’re delighted to continue our work with Primark as part of this industry-leading programme to train more cotton farmers in sustainable farming methods. Not only are we materially changing the lives of farmers and their families in rural cotton communities, but by working closely with Primark and their supply chain partners we have been able to trace the cotton all the way from the farm into products – a challenging but important step towards increased supply chain transparency. We see huge potential among the farming community in China, and we look forward to working in close collaboration with our local implementation partner the Heping Cotton Farmers' Cooperative to develop a programme that meets the needs of local cotton farmers.”

Katharine Stewart, Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Director at Primark, said:

“As a leading international retailer, we know that many people rely on us for great quality cotton products at affordable prices. Cotton is one of our most important fibres and, like other retailers, we rely on farmers working in rural communities around the world. Improving the long-term sustainability of how that cotton is grown has therefore been a key priority for some time. What’s particularly exciting for us is that we can be confident our cotton has been grown in an environmentally-friendly way because we’ve been able to track it all the way from farm to store.

“By extending the programme into another major cotton-sourcing country, we’ll be able to offer our customers even more products made using sustainable cotton – all at the Primark prices our customers know and love.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

About the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme

The Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme first launched in 2013 in India – one of the main countries Primark sources from. Through a partnership with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Primark supported the training of female farmers in sustainable farming methods to increase the farmers’ cotton yields and profits.

Following the expansion of the programme into Pakistan last year, more than 28,000 farmers were enrolled in the training across both countries. The 2019 expansion of the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme, will see more than 160,000 independent cotton farmers trained in sustainable farming methods across India, Pakistan and China by the end of 2022.

The impact of the programme is manifest in the average results from the first group of 1,251 farmers in India, who participated in the programme from 2013-2016. Across the three years, this first group of female farmers saw:

  • An average profit increase of almost 200% and an increase in yield of almost 10%
  • A reduction of input costs by 15.8% (e.g. by reducing chemical pesticide and fertiliser usage, buying seeds collectively with other farmers, and a reduction in additional labour costs)
  • A 24.7% reduction in the use of chemical fertiliser and a 50.3% reduction of chemical pesticide usage, indicating that environmentally sustainable farming methods are being adopted
  • A 4% water usage decrease, revealing sustainable water efficiency practices in action

About Primark

Primark is an international retailer that offers high quality fashion, beauty and home ware at the best value on the high street. First established in Dublin in 1969, we employ 75,000 people, have 373 stores, with over 15 million square foot of selling space, across 12 countries: The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, the US, Italy and Slovenia.

People often ask how we can offer great products while keeping prices so low. It’s because we run Primark a bit differently to other businesses. We do very little advertising, so no big TV ads. Only selling our products in-store – so no online shopping or delivery network. And always saving on the small stuff – like simple hangers and price tags to keep costs low. So we are able to pass those savings straight on to the customer in the form of lower prices, and while we strive to keep our prices as low as possible, we never compromise on the standards we expect.

It matters to us, and our customers, that our products are made in factories where workers’ rights and the environment are respected. We don’t own any factories – we source from our suppliers’ factories alongside many other global retail brands. So we have built a team of over 110 ethical and environmental sustainability specialists who work in our key sourcing countries to make sure the factories we source from meet our strict code of conduct, based on the UN’s International Labour Organisation standards. That code covers everything from working conditions to wages.

About Primark Cares

The Primark Cares initiative is a clear and committed statement to our customers, employees, partners and suppliers that we take our responsibility as a large retailer seriously. It’s a reminder that we’re always investing in ways to support the people who make our clothes and to protect the environment. Primark Cares labels can be found across a wide range of products in our stores. You can also read more about the work we’re doing under the ‘People’ and ‘Planet’ sections on our website – primark.com/en/our-ethics

About CottonConnect

CottonConnect was created in 2009 and aims to deliver a market-driven approach that provides opportunities for retailers and brands, as well as farmers, to simultaneously expand economic opportunity, reduce poverty and protect the environment. For more information, visit www.cottonconnect.org.

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