The COVID-19 pandemic also affects us, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF). Until further notice, we do not travel to our project areas in Africa or to the textile production markets around the world to protect the health of our employees, partners and customers. We have shifted our daily work to home office and continue to work and connect virtually with all our colleagues and stakeholders. This way we ensure that our work for smallholder farmers in Africa and the protection of the environment continues. With the measures we have introduced, we are following the advice of the German Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). We are observing current developments very closely and are in regular contact with our partners along the textile value chain in order to act together now and in the future in a sustainable, effective and responsible manner.
All the more reason for us to appeal to your solidarity, which is more in demand today than ever. Numerous livelihoods that are closely linked to the Cotton Made in Africa initiative are at stake worldwide. When shopping, show solidarity with the people behind our textiles and with the environment, whose preservation we must urgently ensure.
Managing Director of the Aid by Trade Foundation
Credit: Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge
“We need solidarity.”
Torsten Stau on work wear, cooperation with civil society, and CmiA in the mass market
Mr. Stau, you are responsible for many areas at the REWE Group. What do you do exactly?
Within the REWE Group, I am responsible for the areas of purchasing and category management non-food, capital and consumer goods as well as PENNY Online. In addition, I am the CEO of HLS GmbH, which stands for Handel-und Lager-Service, a trade and warehouse service provider. And finally, Non-Executive Director of REWE Far East Ltd., the procurement organization of the REWE Group, which procures goods from the Asian market for the REWE Group.
The REWE Group has been a partner of CmiA for many years. It has continuously increased its demand for CmiA cotton. How can business and sustainability be combined?
At the start of the cooperation 10 years ago, our share of more sustainable cotton was 15 percent. Today it’s over 70 percent, with the aim of converting to 100 percent for all private label textile products by 2025. To achieve this goal, we rely on the Cotton made in Africa raw material, which ensures both ecological and social improvements at the beginning of the supply chain, thus helping us to live up to our responsibility in the value chain. On the other hand, we have now managed to ensure that CmiA can hold its own in price competition with conventional cotton.
What feedback on CmiA do you get from employees, customers and media?
In 2016, we started to switch our work wear to CmiA. This will be the case for all workwear in Germany by 2020. In addition, we regularly inform our employees about CmiA through activities. Externally, we inform the public about this successful cooperation through various formats and on various occasions. Internal and external feedback is entirely positive.
You have many years of experience in the international textile industry. How do you assess the development of the topic of sustainability?
Demand for more sustainable cotton has evolved from a niche to a mass market. CmiA also has its share in this. In terms of content, a lot was added: Whereas in the 1990s, we were almost exclusively concerned with social issues, today, also ecological issues increasingly have to be solved.
Do you have an example of this?
Many. Another very striking signal sent against disposable plastic was when the REWE Group became the first retailer in Germany to discontinue selling extremely non-durable plastic straws across the board in spring 2019. We are also getting deeper and deeper into the supply chain. A good example of this are our activities as part of the Detox campaign, with which we are eliminating harmful chemicals from lower levels of textile production in order to help protect water as a resource. In addition, many industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives have emerged, such as the ‘Bündnis für nachhaltige Textilien’ (Alliance for Sustainable Textiles). A joint commitment is often more effective and efficient than individual activities. We are also responding to the growing demand for transparency.
Do you also face challenges when implementing CmiA?
Sure. This is particularly true in countries that are themselves strong producers of cotton. There, the question of price is much more difficult to implement.
If you had one wish, what would the textile industry look like in the future?
We need even more industry solutions and market participants to join forces to implement social and ecological requirements within the value chain. This applies vertically in the supply chain for suppliers and production sites as well as horizontally for cooperation between companies. To achieve this, we first need more transparency in the value chains. In order to change basic conditions, companies must also cooperate with civil society, governments, and standard organizations.
Agri Exim has approached CmiA end of 2018 during the Cotton Expert House Annual Conference in Kampala with the interest to become a partner of the Cotton made in Africa Initiative. Soon after this encounter in Uganda, the AbTF and Agri Exim kicked-off the on-boarding process, and after successful competition of the verification missions for the ginnery – conducted end of January 2019 – and on field level – carried out in September 2019 – now is the second certified partner in Uganda.
Here is a portrait of the company presented by Varun Bhassin, CEO of Agri Exim Uganda:
Agri Exim was founded in 2012 in an age when going organic & natural was still more of a luxury than a lifestyle. Our main goal – which remains true today – was to make quality ingredients more accessible to global customers, while making our credible farmers economically secure and productive. We recognized that there were so many farmers in communities who had the potential to offer high-quality products, but no way to scale or market them. We equipped them with the necessary education and the tools, so they could realize their full potential and their vision.
What started as a small attempt to assist our farmers has today grown into a thriving, rewarding operation delivering certified-organic & natural products worldwide. With a presence in over five countries and a farmer community over 17,000 strong, we still work at the ground level. We work closely with our farmers to assist them in identifying opportunities to maximize their land’s output potential and support them through the provisions of necessary guidance resources to reach their goal. We stand behind them through the entire process – from training camps to cultivation to harvest – and guarantee the purchase of their yield at a premium. Agri Exim provides a global platform for local farmers to market their product, and make sure that they get the best return for their hard work.
Our hands-on approach ensures that the entire supply chain right from cultivation all the way to packaging passes through stringent globally accredited quality standards. We are thoroughly involved and oversee every step of the manufacturing process, and our rigorous quality checks ensure that our customers get the finest local product, without any compromise.
For Agri Exim’s cotton supply chain in Uganda, our ginnery is situated in Iceme, in the north of Uganda in the district of Oyam. It was acquired in early 2018. We currently work with about 10,000 small holder farmers out of which 3,540 farmers have been certified CmiA.
Agri Exim services the sustainable food and non-food industry and thus ensures that its farmers are paid fair prices. With a strive to ensure a sustainable market for its cotton farmers, Agri Exim decided on CmiA to be its certification partner.
"CmiA helped us to improve the business"
Taslimul Hoque on the purity of African cotton, smart customer acquisition and the influence of consumers
Mr. Hoque, you work at Square Textile Ltd., a vertically integrated textile manufacturer based in Bangladesh. What does that mean and what do you do specifically?
Square is a vertically integrated textile producer based in Bangladesh. We cover several stages of value creation from yarns to ready garments. I work here as General Manager and am responsible for procurement, production, marketing and logistics.
You have been a CmiA registered partner since 2009. What motivated you to become a partner?
After learning about the program, we immediately decided to trade CmiA cotton. Our decision was based on two major benefits: By using CmiA-certified cotton, we can reliably source sustainable cotton from Africa, thereby diversifying our raw material sources. The CmiA program also helped us to reduce quality and delivery risks. As a result, we were able to increase the use of African cotton at a much faster pace. However, it is also important for us to gain access to a number of new customers who purchase our CmiA-labeled yarns. In a nutshell, CmiA helped us grow and improve our business.
You were awarded the CmiA Best Practice Award in 2018. What was your biggest achievement?
Our business volume has increased steadily since registering for CmiA. In 2018, our CmiA yarn sales reached an annual turnover of 1.31 million kilograms. And we expect further growth in 2019.
What challenges did you face in implementing CmiA cotton in your production?
Before registering for CmiA, we were used to processing much cleaner cotton. At first, we found some challenges in mitigating the contamination in yarns and fabrics while processing CmiA cotton. We then developed new processes, invested in new machines to solve the problem and improve our capability to process more CmiA cotton.
Hand-picked cotton is often associated with poor quality and complicated processing. Is that correct?
With African cotton, the contamination is relatively high. We find our customers are increasingly becoming sensitive to fiber contamination. So, from cotton harvesting to ginning right through to the final processing stages of textiles, we need to put in more effort to remove contaminants.
You work together with companies and brands worldwide. What changes are you currently seeing in the demand for sustainably produced textiles?
There are three major changes: First, a keen interest from retailers in sustainable raw materials. In addition, a shorter delivery time for shipping garments. And last but not least, retailers and brands are continuously increasing their order volumes for clothing made from sustainable cotton.
What are the biggest changes facing the textile industry?
The changing preferences of consumers have a major impact on us all across the textile value chain. Greater attention to what has been produced changes the market by accelerating the implementation of sustainable processes and increasing the demand for sustainable raw materials.
For the benefit of the female producers
Josia Coulibaly on sustainability in the cotton business, women in Africa and her assertiveness in the village
Ms. Coulibaly, you are responsible for corporate responsibility and sustainability at SECO, a cotton branch of a company of the Olam Group and a wholesaler of agricultural goods. What is your main role?
Together with my department, I develop and implement programs and activities to benefit our partners. The focus is on creating living landscapes where prosperous farmers and thriving communities live in harmony with healthy ecosystems.
One aspect of working in-line with the CmiA standard is empowering female farmers. How are the female cotton farmers organized?
We work with registered individual producers as well as with organized women’s associations, registered under the name of their president. In addition to their fields where they grow food crops, they have a common plot where they work one or two days a week — often earning their own income for the first time. Revenue is collectively spent to benefit the community, such as fixing water pumps and other social actions.
Are there any initiatives you have set up to specifically assist female cotton farmers?
Yes, selected women’s groups are trained by us with the support of external partners in associative life, entrepreneurship and the establishment of ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations’ (VSLAs). Although these initiatives are carried out for the benefit of female cotton producers, they are also open to other women in the villages. In 2018, 543 women participated in these activities. At the end of the season, there is a celebration in which they were officially recognized and rewarded to encourage other women to do the same. I am proud that our work to support women even attracted the international press – our work got featured in the newspaper “The Telegraph” among others.
Do you get different feedback from men and women?
Some producers report significant improvements in their living conditions. They also participate financially in community projects and are more involved in meetings on decisions. It is a great challenge to undertake activities that are culturally undesirable, for example access to land. That’s difficult.
How did you manage to be accepted as a woman in the villages?
My first experience was in the village of Yedandiekaha. I was there for a broken water pump. People were amazed to see such a young lady and wondered what she was doing here. But when I came back again and again, the villagers learned that my visits are always linked to a social initiative or a project for them.
And how does SECO work on equal opportunities for men and women in their own company?
Olam International has a non-discrimination charter that promotes equality for all people without discrimination. An internal mentoring system called ‘GROW’ (Globally Reaching Olam Women) has been set up in order to coach women to take on greater professional responsibilities.
The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) was invited to present the Cotton made in Africa initiative at the French Cotton Association (AFCOT) conference, which was held in Deauville on September 30th and October 1st, 2019. Over 300 people from five continents took part in the event. The CmiA Representative in Western and Central Africa, Younoussa Imorou Ali, gave a presentation titled “Major Sustainability Trends and Effects for Producers”.
Key messages of the speech included the AbTF’s conviction that sustainability actually is more than a trend, but a phenomenon which is here to stay. It has been embedded at national legislation and corporate policy level. Successful organisations promote its implementation and work on developing more sustainable and transparent production. An ever-increasing number of consumers around the world demand that their goods are sustainably produced and expect that the can trace their products back to their origins via clear and transparent value- and supply chains. If the cotton industry is to cope with these ever-increasing demands, it too needs to become more sustainable and transparent. The Cotton made in Africa Standard and the Aid by Trade Foundation can play a key role in enabling stakeholders within the cotton producing countries and regions of Sub-Saharan Africa to make this shift.
The discussion, which followed the presentation, was driven by three major questions: First, who can become a CmiA partner and how is the process. Secondly, why CmiA is not implemented in more countries. Finally, it was questioned whether the currently achieved impact through trainings and additional community projects is sufficient to justify the efforts made by farmers to change their system from “conventional” to “sustainable”. While the first two questions were straight forward to answer, the last question is rather considered a major task and long-term work assignment to CmiA.
The Aid by Trade Foundation thanks the French Cotton Association for the opportunity to give the cotton industry’s executives food for thought and vice versa.
Picture: © Francois Louchet