Sustainable Cotton Ranking

Assessing company performance

Executive summary

Cotton is a key raw material for the textile industry. Various sustainability initiatives exist but many problems and challenges remain, and conventional cultivation often comes with serious environmental impacts and poor labour conditions. Although there is a significant amount of more sustainable cotton now available, accounting for around 13 per cent of global supply in 2015, the Mind the Gap report shows that less than one fifth of what is produced is actually being bought as more sustainable.

With the aim of evaluating progress and accelerating change, Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK), Solidaridad and WWF commissioned Rank a Brand to assess major cotton-using companies on their published cotton sustainability performance. In total, 37 companies, estimated globally to use the most cotton in their products, were ranked across three areas: policy, actual use in products (uptake), and traceability. This report offers an overview of current company performance together with recommendations for improve- ment. Each company’s individual performance on sustainable cotton is also presented. For the purposes of this research, only organic cotton, Fairtrade cotton, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton (BCI) or recycled cotton are considered to be ‘more sustainable’.

Summary of main results

No company achieved the maximum available score of 19.5 points, mainly because no company uses 100 per cent more sustainable cotton according to the criteria used in this research, or is fully transparent about its policies and cotton supply chain. Of the 37 companies evaluated, only eight scored three points or more. With a score of 12.0, IKEA Group is the best performing company as well as being the only company to rank in the green zone. C&A Global (9.0), H&M Group (9.0) and Adidas Group (7.75) follow in the yellow zone, while Nike (6.75), M&S (5.5), VF Corporation (3.25), and Kering (3.0) are in the orange zone. Another 17 companies scored less than three points, while a further 12 provided little or no information and therefore scored no points, all falling in the red zone.

Performance has been assessed at company level to reflect the need for company-wide change in transforming the entire cotton market. Some companies may be performing better than their ranking suggests but have scored lower because they are not communicating policies and practices publicly. It is also possible that specific brands are performing better than their parent company as sustainability practices can vary significantly between different brands owned by the same company.

A number of companies participate in sustainable cotton initiatives. For example, ten of those assessed here are members of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and support minimizing the use of highly hazardous pesticides (HHP),1 improving working conditions, addressing biodiversity issues and reducing water consumption. Other companies participate in different collaborative initiatives and/or cotton programmes, and some, in addition to using Better Cotton, Fairtrade, organic or CmiA cotton, focus on using recycled cotton. Most of the companies assessed do not have clear cotton policies.

Main conclusions

While significant progress has been made by a few leading companies working hard to deliver sustainability, there is significant room for improvement in company sourcing and reporting on sustainable cotton. Although some major brands and manufacturers have published policies and commitments, in general, there is a widespread absence of publicly available information on policies, sourcing and supply chain traceability across the textile sector – all of which are necessary for overall market transformation.

Main recommendations

While the leading companies have made good progress, more action is needed to make a lasting difference in the cotton sector. All companies using large quantities of cotton can strengthen their business by taking responsibility for impacts and pursuing sustainability. In doing so, these companies can make a major contribution to people and planet.

PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF recommend low-scoring companies:

  • Develop and publish a policy for sourcing more sustainable cotton for their products, including time-bound targets – companies serious about sustainability should be sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020 at the latest
  • Consider joining an organization such as the BCI or Textile Exchange.


PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF recommend companies already on the way to sustainability continue improving performance:

  • Encourage all their suppliers to participate in credible sustainability programmes
  • Increase the amount of more sustainable cotton they source and purchase to send a strong market signal for sustainability
  • Report transparently on cotton sourcing and sustainability
  • Map supply chains and use traceability tools.


PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF consider the following standards to be the most credible for companies seeking to source more sustainable cotton at the production level:

  • Organic cotton
  • Fairtrade cotton
  • Cotton made in Africa (CmiA)
  • Better Cotton (from the BCI).


Another sustainable option is recycled cotton.


Download full report here

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