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From Farm To Fabric: The Many Faces Of Cotton - The 74th Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC)
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The Rupp Report: Interlaken - The Summit Of The Global Cotton Industry

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

Sustainability is one of the key words of the past as well as the present decade. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as follows: "Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment."

Environmental Consciousness
This definition is particularly important for cotton growers and the whole cotton trade. In these times of increased environmental consciousness, cotton was and is very much in the focus of nongovernmental organizations and a large number of people in terms of sustainable production and processing along the production chain. The reasons are well-known. Even the big retailers around the world are becoming more and more concerned about the sustainability and also the traceability of the cotton products they buy.

A New Perception Is Needed
In the last few years, many prominent organizations have acknowledged this change in the people's minds. Even last year's International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF) conference in Barcelona prior to ITMA Europe addressed the issue under the motto "New Paradigms in the Global Textile Industry." It was interesting to see that the audience discussed issues that were unimaginable some 10 years ago. Water, food and power shortages; and reduced wastewater were just a few of the topics discussed and presented in Barcelona.

Many other organizations are looking forward to further discussion of these issues, including the Washington-based International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), which was founded in 1939. At that time, global cotton stocks totaled nearly 25 million bales, more than half of which were located in the United States. The ICAC's mission is "to assist governments in fostering a healthy world cotton economy. The role of the ICAC is to raise awareness, to provide information and to serve as a catalyst for cooperative action on issues of international significance." On its website, the organization lists the following functions:

  • provide statistics on world cotton production, consumption, trade and stocks and to identify emerging changes in the structure of the world cotton market;
  • serve as a clearing house for technical information about cotton and cotton textiles;
  • serve as an objective forum for discussion of cotton matters of international significance; and
  • represent the international cotton industry before UN agencies and other international organizations.

Originally, only cotton-producing countries qualified for membership. Following the fourth meeting, other nations having a substantial interest in cotton production, export or import were invited to join the Committee. Today, member countries include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, United States, Uzbekistan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

How To Shape Sustainability In The Cotton Value Chain?
Every year, the ICAC organizes a Plenary Meeting. This year's event will take place October 7-12 at the Congress Centre Kursaal Interlaken, in Switzerland. The 71st Plenary Meeting of the International Cotton Advisory Committee will also focus on sustainability: The theme of the congress is "Shaping Sustainability in the Cotton Value Chain."

According to the ICAC, the meeting "will provide an opportunity for government officials, members of the Expert Panel on Social, Environmental and Economic Performance of Cotton Production (SEEP), and representatives of the private sector to engage in a structured discussion of the concept of sustainable development and how this concept can be applied to the world cotton." The main questions to be answered are:

How have cotton production and/or spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing become "more sustainable" in your country during in recent years?
What are the major challenges to improving the "sustainability" of cotton value chain activities in your country?
What role does the government play in facilitating improvements in "sustainability?"

But not only is sustainability significant. A new term appeared in the textile business some time ago: "traceability." It will be very important to know and to trace the long journey of cotton to the retailers' shelves. Expressions like "life cycle analysis," "carbon footprint," or even "from cradle to grave" have become more prominent in the world of textile production. Suppliers have to carry information about the source and production methods of cotton, and the cotton must be traceable too. The customers want to know where the cotton products all come from and how they are processed.

The Challenge Is Communication
The facts are well-known within the cotton industry among its insiders. The challenge is to communicate the facts to the outside world, that is, the consumers. At last year's ITMF conference, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan challenged the audience by saying that the cotton industry is responsible for 25 percent of all pesticides used on this planet. He provoked hefty reactions from the complaining audience and responded with a few words: "OK, go and tell us the truth about it."

More information about the ICAC's 71st Plenary Meeting and the organization is available at icac.org.

August 21, 2012