Sourcing raw materials
A range of natural and manmade fibres are used to make Primark products. Cotton is the main natural fibre used to make many of our products, and others play an important part in production too. Regardless of the raw material used, it matters to us that it is sourced responsibly giving our customers greater reassurance.
TRACING WHERE RAW MATERIALS COME FROM
At Primark, we don’t buy raw materials directly. Instead, the factories or suppliers that we have approved are responsible for sourcing the raw materials used in our products.
Primark has committed to an initiative by environmental experts WRAP, called the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP). Alongside other members from the clothing sector, Primark is working towards collective industry targets. One element of SCAP aims to improve the traceability of raw materials used in the supply chain. We submit the type and amount of raw materials used in our products to SCAP with the help of our suppliers. We also register the country of origin of the materials and fabrics we use, which means we can track where they are being sourced from.
But we want to go beyond tracing raw materials. We also want to ensure our raw materials are sustainably sourced. And we’ve started with cotton.
SPOTLIGHT ON COTTON
Cotton is the main natural fibre used to make many of our products – from pyjamas, t-shirts and jeans, to baby grows, bedding and towels – and we are committed to bringing more sustainably-sourced cotton to customers at affordable prices.
So what do we mean by sustainable cotton? To us at Primark, it is cotton grown in a way that reduces the environmental impact of cotton production by minimising the amount of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and water the farmers use to grow the cotton, but also improves the livelihood of the farmers by increasing their income. Our long-term ambition is to ensure that all the cotton used in our supply chain is sustainably sourced but without passing the cost onto our customers.
THE SUSTAINABLE COTTON PROGRAMME
Cotton is often grown by farmers on small farms in rural communities in countries including India and Pakistan, where knowledge of environmentally-friendly farming methods is limited and there is little or no access to support or formal training. That’s why we teamed up with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association in 2013 to create the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme.
The programme launched with 1,251 female farmers in Gujarat, India, and has seen transformative results. The quality of cotton has improved, and, on average, farmers who have completed the three-year training programme have increased their profits by over 200%. 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 has now expanded into other countries, including Pakistan, working with CottonConnect and local implementing partners to train 160,000 farmers by 2022, equipping them with the knowledge and means to grow cotton using more natural and sustainable farming methods.
In 2017 we started to use the cotton from the programme in one of our most popular ranges – at no extra cost to the customer – women’s pyjamas. Since then we’ve been increasing its use year on year, as we work towards our long-term ambition of ensuring that all the cotton used in our supply chain is sustainably sourced and now have ranges including nightwear, denim, t-shirts and homeware made from cotton grown by farmers in our programme.
Kanchanben is a 40-year-old female farmer who was trained through the Sustainable Cotton Programme in India. She grows cotton on six acres of her land. Through the programme, Kanchanben has reduced the amount of fertiliser she uses by 50% and has increased her cotton yield. As a result, she has made more money, which she has since invested in her children’s education.
SCIENCE AND THE SUPPLY CHAIN
The cotton supply chain is notoriously complex. When we started the Programme in 2013 ensuring traceability from farm to store was one of our ambitions. We worked with CottonConnect to trace cotton from the participating farmers all the way through our supply chain. We were able to segregate the cotton through the supply chain and track it using Cotton Connect’s proprietary system, TraceBale. Given the complexity surrounding traceability, we wanted to go the extra mile to ensure that when we say a product is made using sustainable cotton, grown by farmers in our programme, it definitely is, which is why we partnered with Oritain.
Oritain uses forensic science to trace cotton back to its original source and validates the information on the TraceBale system. We were one of the first high street retailers to partner with Oritain and the only one to use this technology at such scale.
To verify the source of the cotton, Oritain uses the same forensic science that’s been used in criminal investigations for more than 40 years to test what exists naturally in a product. Cotton naturally absorbs different levels of chemical elements specific to the local climate and geological conditions it’s grown in. Oritain tests the differences in these elements and uses the data to create a unique ‘Origin Fingerprint’ that can’t be replicated.
To date Oritain has mapped more than 90 percent of the world’s cotton in a database. Fabric and yarn can be tested against the genuine ‘Origin Fingerprint’ stored in the database to see if they match. If they do, the materials are identified as authentic; if they don’t, it suggests the product may have been contaminated. Oritain can test cotton against the database at virtually any point of the supply chain providing transparency to us and our customers. We have worked with Oritain since 2018 to validate samples taken at various stages of the supply chain – from the farms themselves, when the cotton has gone through the ginning process and subsequently after the spinning process.
This gives us and our customers confidence in the source of our sustainable cotton, and comfort in the knowledge that when we say something is made with sustainable cotton grown by farmers in our programme, it really is.