Guest Blog Post by Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, ISEAL Alliance
ISEALISEAL, as the global membership organisation for sustainability standards, is the leading authority on what good practice looks like in this space. As a subscriber the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) align with ISEAL's mission to benefit people and the planet and is part of a community that is aiming to strengthen the standards movement. As one of the largest organizations for sustainable cotton, representatives of the foundation regularly participate in ISAEL meetings. With experts and the standards community, they discuss and further develop different approaches and the impact of sustainability standards. One major theme is the claims jungle, Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, at ISEAL Alliance stresses in our guest blog:

"Today we can say that there is a definitive movement of sustainability standards and certification, with the recent showing that certified goods across sixteen leading certification programmes in ten commodities now hold an estimated trade value of USD 31.6 billion (as of 2012). At the same time, there are hundreds of standards and certifications programmes on the market, and not all of them are credible.

Most people engage with sustainability standards through an ecolabel, certification mark or some other type of sustainability message, and bringing clarity to this often confusing landscape is a challenge that ISEAL is now taking on. For those that use standards and need to interpret sustainability claims -- particularly buyers and NGOs that advise these buyers - we want to improve their ability to navigate this jungle and differentiate those claims that relate to trustworthy sustainability standards versus those that might actually be greenwashing.

We are approaching this challenge on two fronts -- on the one side developing a Good Practice Guide for certification programmes, and on the other, a navigation tool for people trying to understand different claims. The Good Practice Guide will be an international reference for any certification programme to strengthen its claims and labelling processes. It will provide the building blocks to manage claims and reduce the risk of inaccuracy or confusion. This includes clear protocol for who can make a claim or use a label, also how procedures for monitoring these claims and dealing with label misuse.

We are also hoping to drive dialogue in particular key areas. This could include a common understanding of what makes a 'complete claim' (is a logo sufficient on its own?) and consistency in the language that is used on certified products. The navigation tool will be a user-friendly way for stakeholders to make informed decisions about the sustainability labels they are contemplating using and, ultimately, we hope it reduces the proliferation of non-credible claims. It will be a sort of decision tree that leads people through the essential questions they need to ask, such as 'what type of claim is being made' and 'what social or environmental issues does the claim refer to'? It is essential that buyers, retailers, government procurers and others understand the differences between claims, as some are based on compliance with sustainability standards and other rigorous checks, while others might only be labels added for marketing purposes but with no systems beyond them."

Cotton initiative supports an additional 1.5 million people in Africa

CmiA farmers from CameroonAfter successfully completing verification, more than 226,000 smallholder farmers in Cameroon are for the first time growing cotton according to the CmiA standard and are now part of the CmiA initiative. Including the family members of the smallholder farmers, this means that over 1.5 million people will now benefit from the program. Cotton made in Africa has thus been able to further expand its cooperation with smallholder farmer families in Sub-Saharan Africa to round about 660,000 and currently helps over 4.8 million people.

The most important pillar of the Cameroonian economy is agriculture which lies almost entirely in the hands of smallholder farmers. Cotton is traditionally considered one of the main sources of income with which the families in the rural regions of the country earn their livelihood. However, they haven't been able to fully tap the potential of cotton growing to improve their living conditions until now. This is an issue CmiA is dedicated to. By joining the CmiA system, families in Cameroonian families can now also benefit from the income from license fees which are used to pay for CmiA cotton and are reinvested in the project regions. Training programs on modern, efficient, and sustainable cultivation methods assist them, for example, in improving the quality of their cotton, yield higher crops, and thus earn a better income. CmiA works together with the cotton company Sodecoton at the local level. 

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AbTF takes stock of its work in Africa

In 2011, the National Opinion Research Institute (NORC) laid the foundation for measuring the development and success of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) by conducted field studies in five project countries. Based on these studies, the initiative evaluated the effectiveness of its work through the use of representative surveys in Zambia and Zimbabwe: The result is positive.

The representative surveys show that the harvest results in the CmiA growing area increased by an average of 23% compared to the baseline in 2010. Only through boosting yield can the smallholder farmers increase their financial income in the long term and thus improve their living conditions on their own.

CmiA invests in school infrastructure as part of social projects and awareness-raising. Some 80% of children in the CmiA growing regions now go to school. In 2010, this figure was only 65%. In addition, measuring the initiative's effectiveness provides in-depth insight into the acceptance of training measures CmiA offers in cooperation with the Competitive African Cotton Initiative (COMPACI) and local partners. The farmers use at least two methods to improve soil fertility accordingly: Beyond using organic fertilizer, 80% of the farmers are increasingly focusing on crop rotation. These and other cultivation methods are not only ecologically useful but also pay off through higher crop yields for smallholder farmers.  

Read the: Yield Assessment Methods in COMPACI 2014

Foundation Discusses Sustainability Strategy with Experts from the U.S. Textile Industry

AbTF Intensifies Dialogue with US American RetailTo reflect the increasing importance of sustainable raw materials for retail trade, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) in collaboration with the consulting firm Accenture invited experts from the American textile industry to New York City. The goal was to provide information about the use of sustainable cotton as a basis for a responsible clothing industry and to discuss a sustainability strategy for the US market.
Together with experts from the US textile industry and the consulting firm Accenture, Tina Stridde, Managing Director and spokesperson for the AbTF and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative, discussed the prominent role of sustainable raw materials for people and the environment. During the workshop, she pointed out that companies can take on responsibility with their demand for raw materials. Already today, many textile companies purchase the Cotton made in Africa cotton as partners of an international demand alliance of the same name. They benefit from an array of communication options as well as by the fact that the Cotton made in Africa standard is reliable and transparent, while also perfectly combining sustainability with practicality. During the dialogue, the question was discussed whether the North American market requires a particular marketing approach. The initial conclusion showed that even in the very price-sensitive US market, there is great interest in sustainable raw materials and importance is particularly attached to a transparent and efficiently organized supply chain.

CmiA supports international day of action aiming to change the fashion industry

Fashion Revolution Day 2014Cotton made in Africa supports Fashion Revolution Day taking place on Thursday, 24th of April 2014. The action day that has been created in memorial to the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh encourages people to start asking 'who made my clothes?'. Fashion Revolution Day has been initiated to create human connections throughout the supply chain. It focuses not only on the textile industry in Asia but also on cotton producers in other regions e.g. in Africa.

„Under the slogan ,Who made your clothes?‘ we do not only approach the catastrophic working conditions in the producing countries. We simoultaneously want to show alternatives and positive examples. Because we know that fashion can also be produced in accordance with human beings and nature,“ explains Carina Bischof, Upcycling Fashion Store Berlin and member of the German committee of Fashion Revolution Day. For the first Fashion Revolution Day, people worlwide are asked to wear their clothes inside out in order to change the way they look at the clothes they wear.

Cotton made in Africa helps smallholder cotton farmers and their families help themselves through trade in order to improve the social, economical and ecological living conditions of smallholder cotton farmers and their families in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through training programs, Cotton made in Africa teaches the cotton farmers about modern, efficient, and environmentally friendly cultivation methods that help them improve the quality of their cotton, yield higher crops, and thus earn a better income. Partnering textile companies purchase the CmiA cotton and process it further. With each purchase of CmiA-products you can make a valuable contribution to Africa’s long-term future and to a sustainable cotton production. 

The aim of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) is to verifiably and transparently provide improved living conditions for the smallholder cotton farmers and their families in Sub Saharan Africa. The analysis of production data and representative surveys in Zambia and Zimbabwe show the first qualitative results such as increases in yield for CmiA smallholder farmers by 23%. However, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) like other organizations faces some challenges in measuring the success of development policy work.

In order to contribute significantly to reducing poverty and to environmental protection, the initiative focuses on measurable improvements in social, environmental, and economic standards of living. For example, sustainable farming methods such as measures for maintaining and improving soil fertility, pesticide management, or education are measured, among other things. Another key factor is the development of the crop yields.

In the majority of program countries however, there is no reliable production data because the shape and size of a smallholder cotton field can be very irregular. The prerequisite for a valid measurement of effectiveness are precise hectares sizes because only then can the crop yields and the income of farmers be determined. CmiA has now introduced wide-scale use of GPS devices to resolve this issue. Another problem is that the quantities produced per hectare often are difficult to record. In many cases, the farmers sell their cotton to different dealers or pass it on to other family members to avoid repaying the loans to the cotton company. Their yield data are thus often led by their interests and can only be verified with difficulty. Depending on the context, the yield can therefore only be determined reliably by professionally trained harvest appraisers.

Since word about the attractiveness of the CmiA program has spread, for example, in Zambia, that almost every farmer benefits from the training program and about continued support by CmiA, the selection of appropriate control groups has become a major challenge. Further difficulties lie in the comparability of the control groups, for example, by different climate zones or different seed qualities. Roger Peltzer, Program Director of the Competitive African Cotton Initiative (COMPACI), which works closely with CmiA in implementing and evaluating the program, explains: "Offering reliable information about the impact of our work for such a broad-based project is the result of a learning process spanning many years. Having gone through this process, we can now gather substantial results based on the representative surveys up to the end of 2014 conducted in all participating countries. In the future, it will therefore be possible for us to provide annual information on cotton production figures, socio-economic data such as school boards in the CmiA cotton production areas as well as on the implementation of sustainable CmiA cultivation techniques."

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Aid by Trade Foundation

Cotton made in Africa
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