Improving Visibility in Cotton Supply Chains to Achieve Transparency

Author: Sara Elder, Vivek Voora, and Pierre Courtemanche

The supply chains that underlie today’s sophisticated global economy remain largely unknown and opaque, even to the businesses directly involved. But a detailed understanding of the networks that bring products to market is critical to advancing sustainable production and consumption. And supply chain knowledge lays the foundation for disclosure that can promote accountability. Businesses are increasingly interested in using supply chain visibility and transparency to demonstrate their commitment to good environmental, social, and governance practices.

IISD’s State of Sustainability Initiatives team partnered with Sweden-based fashion retailer Kappahl on a pilot project to map supply chain actors in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka that produce some of the brand’s organic cotton apparel for babies.

IISD and Kappahl surveyed actors at various points between the cotton farms and the company’s 360 retail stores. IISD ultimately succeeded in mapping actors and collecting sustainability information on previously opaque tiers that were ginning, spinning, and dyeing cotton before it ever reached the garment makers that dealt directly with Kappahl. The researchers used SupplyShift, a supply chain sustainability platform, to carry out this work.

This case study explains both opportunities and challenges for Kappahl and researchers. The project left the company better positioned to identify and address supply chain risks, and the inquiry process opened new communication channels between previously disconnected supply chain actors—building trust and a foundation for future collaboration. The company can also link the new information with existing farm and household data. Conversely, researchers had to use carefully crafted questions to ensure high-quality data collection and successfully engage respondents who were unaccustomed to information requests.

Read the case study to learn more about this unique project. .