Ralph Lauren, JC Penny And Other Retailers Fail The Fair Cotton Test. | Gradient

Ralph Lauren, JC Penny and other retailers fail the fair cotton test.


We all love cotton, we all wear cotton, we all trust cotton. It is the most-used setting on our irons, the most common material in our clothes, in our towels, and in our sheets. We love its non-sticking, non-pilling, easy-washing, feel-good, low-maintenance texture, and we just can’t get enough of it. Cotton farming actually accounts for over 71 percent of global production, and every year there is about 20 million tons(!) of cotton produced.

So, who cares right? Well, we apparently should. WWF Global studies show that cotton production is taking a very bad hit on the environment. Here are the details of its negative effects in three easy points:

  1. Tons of water usage: It takes 20,000 liters of water to make 1kg of cotton (the equivalent of a pair of jeans and a t-shirt). The amount of water usage affects large River Basins such as the Indus River, the Murray-Darling Basin, and the Rio Grande.
  2. Chemicals hurt the air: Farms producing cotton are using harmful chemicals which makes for bad water and bad air. (According to WWF, “agriculture is the largest source of pollution in most countries.”)
  3. Destroys ecosystems: Large amounts of water and bad chemicals/pesticides from cotton farming has already destroyed a few ecosystems (such as: the Aral Sea).

So, things are not looking good for the standard cotton farms, but not to worry! There is such a thing as organic and fair trade cotton that fixes these pollution issues. But like most other organic and fair trade products, it is not exactly on retailers’ radars’, especially in the fast, cheap fashion trend stores of the United States like H&M and Forever21.

So in order to raise awareness, Rank a Brand decided to survey 37 company’s public information to take a look at their cotton policy, sourcing, and traceability.

Take a look and see how everyone did:


Bravo to Ikea (12), H&M, (9), Adidas (7.75), Nike (6.75) and Marks & Spencer (5.5). Not too shabby (as cotton goes)! Now keep in mind, some of the companies that scored zero may just not be publicly reporting their cotton policies. The goal of the survey isn’t vilification, but awareness. The director of WWF’s market transformation initiative Richard Holland told Huff Post, “Companies are not particularly feeling the pressure that they should be doing something. But now it’s possible to source more sustainable cotton, and the next five years will be critical in making enormous change.”

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