Target has set a goal to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2022 for its own and exclusive national brands in apparel, home and essentials.
Cotton is a big deal for Target’s business, the company said. It’s used in many of the retailer’s products, making it one of the largest users in the United States. Although cotton farming plays a major role in the economic well-being of communities around the world, the supply chain is notoriously complex. Target wants to leverage its size, scale and influence to help the industry tackle some major environmental and social challenges, while growing its investment in transparent and traceable sources, the company explained.
It’s a challenging feat, in part, because there’s no industry standard definition for sustainable cotton yet. In an effort to keep up momentum, Target came up with its own definition: “To us, sustainable production uses water and chemicals as efficiently as possible, with methods that support soil health, and promote ethical working conditions,” the company said in a statement.
Target sent Lalit Toshniwal, a principal fabric engineer on its product design team, and his colleagues, to farms in India and Africa, so they could learn as much as possible about how cotton is grown around the world. “There’s a very wide range [of methods used to grow cotton],” Toshniwal said. “From small farms growing cotton in co-ops, to larger farms that use more commercial practices. We also toured farms in the United States, which tend to be much larger and have some of the most remarkable modernized equipment and practices.”
Target has committed to achieving full visibility into where the cotton its vendors use to produce its products is grown. “We aspire to continuous improvement within the interconnected supply chain through collaboration with farmers and brands, as well as other retailers and organizations who share our commitment. We also intend to track and validate our progress. We will report on our progress annually,” the company said.
The first step toward identifying where the cotton for all its own brand and exclusive national brand products is grown will be to team up with vendors to map the supply chain for each product containing cotton. Target also plans to support innovative technological developments within cotton farming, but emphasized that its highest priorities are:
- Ensuring the cotton used in its supply chain is not cultivated or harvested using underage or forced labor.
- Ensuring working conditions in its supply chain are ethical and compliant with applicable laws.
- Optimizing production practices to minimize harmful environmental effects, such as water use and pollution, and chemical use.
Target is also turning to several programs that promote, measure and provide education around sustainable cotton production — such as the Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton LEADS — to help it achieve its goals. These transparency measures will help Target build credibility and trust in its own brands, its exclusive national brands and, ultimately, in the company itself.