IKEA wants all its cotton to adhere to Better Cotton Initiative guidelines by the end of 2015, according to a 2010 Sustainability Report released Wednesday. The multi-stakeholder organization, which counts the Swedish furnishings giant as a founding member, is currently evaluating a set of draft criteria in West Africa, Brazil, Pakistan, and India, after which it will take responsibility for verifying compliance at the farm level. From chemical consumption to forced child labor, cotton’s importance as a raw material belies its social and environmental dark sides, admits the flat-pack maestro. “IKEA works to reduce its need for cotton, but it is not realistic to believe that all cotton can be replaced with alternative materials,” it says. “This is why we work actively to increase the availability of more sustainable cotton.”
IKEA has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to encourage farmers in India and Pakistan (two of IKEA’s primary cotton-sourcing countries) to grow cotton without large amounts of water or pesticides.
IKEA and the World Wildlife Fund have set up Farmer Field Schools in India and Pakistan to provide hands-on training.
Through projects such as the Farmer Field Schools, which provide hands-on training, IKEA estimates that roughly 80,000 farmers have introduced or about to introduce practices that are kinder to the environment, more efficient, and financially profitable. To track the provenance of its materials, IKEA is extending a web-based traceability system—initially used in connection with its India and Pakisan projects—throughout its cotton supply chain.
IKEA is also cooperating with UNICEF and Save the Children to address the children’s rights issues associated with cotton farming. “We believe that children everywhere have the right to be protected from exploitation, abuse, and neglect,” the company says. “All children should have access to quality education, and child labor is unacceptable.” Between 2009 and 2015, nearly 10 million children in more than 15,000 villages in cotton-growing regions in India and Pakistan will benefit from programs supported by the IKEA Foundation.
At the same time, however, IKEA is exploring ways to reduce its reliance on cotton, first by blending it with linen and cellulose-based lyocell, then by expanding its range of lyocell textile products substantially in the longer term.
IKEA is exploring alternatives to cotton, including linen and cellulose-based lyocell.
“Better cotton” currently accounts for 13.4 percent of IKEA’s inventory, more than double the amount it used in 2009. If the rate continues to increase exponentially, then achieving 100 percent sustainability in four years might not be so far-fetched. Adds IKEA: “Harvested volumes are expected to increase rapidly over the next few years as successful farmers spread their knowledge and inspire others, and more and more IKEA textile suppliers commit to buying this more sustainable cotton.”
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