In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Aldi's websites, and a questionnaire that Aldi had completed in March 2019, for information about its cotton sourcing policy.
The questionnaire stated that suppliers must not knowingly source cotton from Uzbekistan; they are encouraged to monitor and track their cotton supply chains on the Better Cotton Initiative website. However, it was not clear whether this policy applied to the whole company group, or how it was applied and monitored.
The questionnaire said it used organic cotton, but did not state it used only organic cotton. It stated ‘certified cotton is cultivated according to certain requirements which, for example, regulate the use of fertilisers and pesticides. In Germany and Austria we offer special buy textiles products containing cotton which is certified according to, for example, the Fairtrade standard, GOTS and the Organic Content Standard (OCS). In addition to this, cotton which is certified according to GOTS or OCS also originates from controlled organic cultivation.’
Regarding GM cotton it stated ‘We request that suppliers do not use GM ingredients and/or derivatives in our non-food products.’ It was not clear how it ensured and monitored this- especially as not all of its cotton appeared to be certified organic.
The Aldi CSR website stated that "We will increase the use of sustainable cotton and ensure that only sustainable cotton is used for our ALDI-exclusive garments and household textiles from 2025 onwards. By 2025, we will therefore require the cotton used for our ALDI-exclusive products to be of either recycled origin or certified according to one of the following internationally recognised sustainability standards: Fairtrade, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Organic Content Standard (OCS), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)"
However, Aldi was currently still using cotton that was not certified by these standards.
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.
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.
Overall, Aldi was marked down under Worker's Rights and lost half a mark in this category due to its lack of a current policy for avoiding the use of Uzbeki cotton.
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.
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.
Overall the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for its cotton sourcing policy.