Cotton made in Africa - a real CSR innovation
by Deborah Miarkowska
Cotton made in Africa is a social business initiative run by the Aid by Trade Foundation. It helps people to help themselves through trade. In other words, the initiative doesn’t simply transfer funds to Africa, but takes an entrepreneurial approach. Instead of maximising the commercial profit of individuals, it establishes an alliance of international textile companies who buy and process sustainably produced cotton from African smallholder farmers specifically for the world market. The alliance currently consists of more than 20 international textile companies. Cotton made in Africa acts in accordance with the rules of the market, avoiding subsidies or interventions in the system of global market prices. The goal is to improve the living conditions of many African cotton farmers. About 240,000 smallholders in Burkina Faso, Benin, Zambia, Cote d’Ivoire and Malawi currently take part in the programme. The African smallholders who sign up to the initiative are treated as equal partners.
To be allowed to produce ‘Cotton made in Africa’ grade textiles, textile companies in the buyers’ alliance (demand alliance) pay a licence fee to the Foundation. In the interests of a holistic approach, these fees are channelled back to the African small farmers, resulting in a win-win situation for everyone involved. The demand alliance partners get cotton produced to a high social and ecological standard without paying a significantly higher price for it. For consumers, most textiles made from ‘Cotton made in Africa’ are recognisable by a wine-red label bearing the initiative’s logo. The African smallholder farmers and their families benefit in many ways: they are trained in more efficient growing methods using as few pesticides as possible, which helps them improve the quality of their cotton and increase their crop yields. They also benefit from social projects to expand the school infrastructure and enable both children and adults to attend school.
Reliable Hosiery is the first Canadian company to join the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) demand alliance. The Aid by Trade Foundation, CmiA’s supporting organization, and the Canadian hosiery manufacturer signed a contract last week. This agreement further strengthens and expands CmiA’s international demand alliance and will grow the distribution end of the initiative. Having a direct effect on the smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, the initiative works with and ultimately supports sustainable cotton cultivation.
Founded in 1959, Reliable Hosiery is the leading manufacturer of hosiery products in Canada. Unusual for a North American garment firm, its entire production line is still located in Montreal. “Taking responsibility is important to us,” said Hermann Gruenwald, president and owner of Reliable Hosiery. He strongly believes that even in a highly competitive global economy, retailers and consumers have a desire to support sustainable initiatives like this one. “This applies equally to our employees here in Canada and to the people who produce the raw materials for our products.” Cotton made in Africa provides a source of cotton that is both environmentally and socially friendly and as such contributes directly to changing the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa for the better.
Reliable Hosiery plans to offer an individual collection of Cotton made in Africa products and to emphasize the special raw materials in their public relations. Both partners have agreed on exclusivity in Canada for the hosiery products. “With Reliable Hosiery we have brought a highly motivated customer on board who will work closely with us to establish Cotton made in Africa in Canada. We are looking forward to working together,” Aid by Trade Foundation Managing Director Tina Stridde said.