June 2012

The C&A Foundation Supports the Fight Against Sumangali Schemes in India

C&A has made a clear commitment to work with others in order to ensure that the system of sumangali (bonded labour), found to exist in the early parts of clothing supply chains in India, is eradicated.

In October 2011, C&A signed a three-year contract with terre des hommes Germany in order to facilitate this process. This initiative is fully funded by the C&A Foundation. The main aim of this programme, which involves extensive outreach to the rural communities from which such young female workers are recruited, is to help remove from existing sumangali schemes, or prevent from joining such schemes, up to 9,000 of these young women.

In June 2012, tdh shared a progress report that confirms that 1,418 former sumangali workers in four regions in India have already agreed to leave whichever sumangali scheme they had joined and take up instead schooling or vocational training, facilitated by our partner. This will provide them with better long-term prospects, whilst also helping to ensure that they are no longer being exploited in the way which had previously been reported.

This is a tangible success story, turning our clear commitment to help eradicate sumangali schemes to a positive and practical outcome.

Driving change in water usage amongst cotton farmers

Cotton can be a water intensive crop. The production of cotton garments involves many production stages from field to the end product, with various impacts on water resources and it can take up to 2,600 litres of water to produce one t-shirt.

Most retailers can barely trace their cotton beyond the manufacturer, and will therefore not know the amount of water used at the farming stage.

In India alone, water scarcity will become a more persistent problem, as more than 40% of India’s population is projected to be without access to clean drinking water by 2020.

In a groundbreaking study financed by C&A and conducted by Water Footprint Network and CottonConnect, the grey water footprint was used as an indicator to assess water pollution from organic and conventional cotton farming.

The results showed that cotton farmers can reduce their grey water footprint through organic or improved farming practices. 

Chemically intensive agriculture became a widespread human practice in the past century, covering in great extent the needs of food and fibre of humankind. The diffuse source of pollution generated by this practice has caused serious impacts on the environment, all around the world and in India particularly. Many studies for India continue reporting problems on human health, on water bodies and ecosystems, due to the widespread use of agrochemicals.  

In the water scarcity problems recognised globally nowadays, water pollution plays a fundamental role, since when the quality of the water is unacceptable for a specific use, it is unavailable for that particular use. The water footprint assessment is an analytical tool which can be instrumental in helping to understand how activities and products relate to water scarcity and pollution. In particular, the grey water footprint is an indicator of freshwater pollution, quantifying the freshwater needed to assimilate a certain load of pollutants reaching water bodies.

In this study, the grey water footprint methodology was applied to two farm samples, each one composed by 240 farms, cultivating cotton in India, and taken from the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The first farm sample practices conventional farming of cotton and the other organic farming.

The grey water footprint results obtained in this study confirm the significant difference between the conventional and organic agricultural practices on what concerns impacts on water resources, for cotton cultivation in India. Although the organic practice is not free of impacts on water resources (it has a contribution related to leaching of Nitrogen and Phosphorus), its impact is overall significantly smaller than the conventional practice. Results of this study clearly favor a wider implementation of organic agriculture. Pesticides from conventional cotton agriculture were found to be the critical pollutant in most of the farms.

C&A is now funding a further study aimed at a more detailed analysis of conventional and organic farming practices and their impacts on water quality.  The results of this study will be used to help farmers reduce their grey water footprint.