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SPONSORED CONTENT – At the end of last year, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a farm level, science-based programme focused on more sustainably grown cotton, celebrated one-year since its official launch. The growing appetite for cotton with a better environmental profile is evidenced by the rapid growth achieved by the Trust Protocol in a relatively short timeframe. In its first year, the Trust Protocol welcomed more than 560 brand, retailer, mill and manufacturer members and secured 950,000 bales of cotton into the system. Brand, retailer, mill, and manufacturer members of the Trust Protocol now include Levi Strauss & Co and Gap Inc. and its collection of purpose led lifestyle brands Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta, as well as global apparel manufacturer Gildan. The Trust Protocol has also welcomed UK retailers Tesco and Next Plc.

Apparel Insider recently caught up with the Trust Protocol to discuss its progress to date, as well as how its work and remit dovetails with the broader sustainability agenda in the U.S. We also took the opportunity to ask them about the recently announced New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act, which we focused on in the last cover story of Apparel Insider.

We first asked Dr Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, about the importance of transparency in the fashion industry, to which he responded: “It’s been encouraging to see big name brands and retailers – some of them members of the Trust Protocol – on their sustainability journeys recently. Within this, transparency will play a major part towards continuously improving operations.

“The Trust Protocol sees the value in increased transparency. It helps encourage brands to be more open about their supply chain, which in turn can scale up more sustainable activity. If the New York Fashion Act becomes law and companies operating in New York have to report on their environmental impacts, our programme can be a good resource.”

When asked about the direct benefits of being a member of the Trust Protocol, Dr Adams was quick to point to the sustainability credentials of the programme’s cotton. He said: “Fundamentally, our mission is to bring quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to sustainable cotton production and drive continuous improvement in six key sustainability metrics – land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. These six areas of continuous improvement reflect many of the requirements brands will need to report against.”

More and more industry stakeholders are calling for better data from fashion to support their sustainability claims. To this end, the Trust Protocol provides farm level data proven via Field to Market, measured by the Fieldprint Calculator, and verified by Control Union Certifications. Data collection and verification contains multiple stages but begins with cotton growers providing farm level information voluntarily on their sustainable production practices.

Findings from 2020/21 aggregate data found improvement against the 2015 baseline across the six key metrics as well as an increase in yield. Adds Dr Adams: “Our Protocol Consumption Management Solution (PCMS) allows brands and retailers to communicate authentically the environmental impacts of the Trust Protocol fibre they have consumed in their products. By harnessing blockchain technology within our PCMS to record and verify the movement of U.S. cotton fibre along the entire supply chain, beginning at the gin, our initiative is also now the world’s first sustainable cotton fibre to offer article-level supply chain transparency to all members.

“We’re also bringing to our brand and retailer members benefits on social accountability. A key principle of the Trust Protocol is safe labour and worker well-being. To become a grower participant, individuals must adhere to 12 criteria to ensure that relevant U.S. regulations are upheld. These include provisions for minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, child labour standards, migrant housing, access to uncontaminated water, protective equipment, and medical assistance be provided in case of emergency. Additional enforced laws and regulations ensure growers protect their workers from hazards associated with machinery and equipment.”

So, how can membership in the Trust Protocol help businesses in meeting the demands on fashion to operate more responsibly? Dr Adams said: “For those companies who choose to become members, we see three main areas where they can benefit. The first is purchasing more sustainable cotton, helping them to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chain. The second is provision of environmental data based on the cotton they consumed, and the third is article-level supply chain transparency.

“Furthermore, U.S. cotton is committed to meeting the 2025 National Goals for Continuous Improvement, a set of quantifiable targets which progress is measured against. Aligned with the UN’s SDGs, our members reference these ambitious yardsticks in their cotton commitments.”

Finally, we asked Dr Adams about the growing shift globally we are seeing towards legislation on sustainability issues. The EU will soon bring in sustainable textile regulations, while individual states are also passing laws on issues such as supply chain due diligence. Are these steps a positive? Dr Adams told us: “Policymakers and regulators have an important role to play. The fashion industry should continually improve its practices and policymakers can support and guide them as they are developed. “We know most brands’ sustainability journeys will take time to implement. Policy frameworks can support, both in terms of social issues such as worker rights and environmental criteria.”

Web: http://trustuscotton.org

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