In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Sainsbury's website for information on the company's cotton sourcing policy. A number of cotton products on sale were not certified organic or Fairtrade. Sainsbury's was said to be a member of the Better Cotton Initiative.
A press release dated to August 2017 and titled 'Making sustainable cotton part of our fabric' stated: 'Sainsbury’s has joined other leading fashion brands in committing to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.' The company was said to have signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communique´. A press release on the Fairtrade website stated that the communiqué defined 'sustainable' as, 'Organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and recycled cotton certified to an independently verifiable standard such as the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)'.
The Sainsbury's 2019 Values Update stated, "68% of our cotton certified to international sustainability standards, up from 61 per cent in 2017/18, working with the Better Cotton Initiative (2020 target: 100 per cent)"
Not all of Sainsbury's cotton was certified. It lost marks under the following categories: Workers Rights, Pollution & Toxics, Controversial Technology:
According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.
The Organic Trade Association website, www.ota.com, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017. Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.
Values update 2019 (2 January 2020)