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LONDON – In the next edition of Apparel Insider, we will be asking whether ‘sustainable cotton rankings’ like those recently published by Solidaridad could be anti-competitive. The most recent ‘Sustainable Cotton Ranking’ by Solidaridad ‘ranks’ brands according to their use of organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton, Cotton made in Africa and recycled cotton. Meanwhile, it ignores – for instance – Australian and US cotton, where significant strides have been made in terms of sustainable production techniques in recent years. Given that there is a paucity of data around the issue of cotton sustainability, we look at whether initiatives such as Solidaridad’s cotton ranking are capable of distorting competition in the cotton market by making stakeholders believe the likes of C&A, M&S etc are more sustainable because they use certain types of cotton. We also ask if these rankings are anti-competitive because they push brands towards, say, BCI and organic as opposed to US or Australian cotton – and ask whether this this likely to be detrimental to the consumer.

Competition law is concerned with agreements or practices which actually or potentially distort competition within a market in a way which is ultimately detrimental to the consumer.

As part of this feature, we also interviewed Solidaridad about their report. Asked about whether rankings such as this could be misleading, they told us: “At Solidaridad, we believe that sustainable agriculture standards systems (including the production standards itself but also the related assurance and chain of custody) are a step forward. They provide guidance for farmers on more sustainable farming practices and assure buyers that the product meets specified requirements, thereby enabling the market to drive sustainable farming practices through demand. This is one mechanism to drive sustainability in a sector. We recognise that other mechanisms, such as a supporting policy environment and enabling infrastructure, need to be in place to make sustainability the norm.

“Of course, all organisations working towards greater sustainability in cotton farming ultimately need to verify their theory of change by measuring this change. Most are aware of this and working on it. And where we can we will support standard organisations in this process of becoming more data driven and impact oriented.”

The full interview and further analysis will appear in our next magazine.

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