Accelerating organic cotton through the supply chains of leading apparel brands

In India, the world’s largest producer of organic cotton, more and more farmers are moving out organic cotton production. In 2014 frontrunner apparel brands C&A, H&M, Kering, EILEEN FISHER, and Inditex joined forces and formed the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA). This initiative had a unique vision: bring about a more prosperous organic cotton sector that benefits everyone—from farmers to consumers. NewForesight was assigned to roll out OCA from strategy to implementation.

Brands play a key role in the development of organic cotton as a sustainable resource, but due to the poor traceability of organic cotton sourcing, apparel brands at the other side of the chain are unsure of the integrity of their organic cotton garments and are switching to other sustainable alternatives. In particular, organic cotton farmers in India have received few benefits from organic cotton. As a result, organic cotton production is declining and farmers are switching to other crops due to a poor business case for organic cotton. They have little access to quality organic cotton seed and to the financing required for this investment.

Initiating OCA: an independent industry entity to transform the sector

Initiatives to change this stalemate in the sector are fragmented and lack impact. OCA was founded to create alignment on market-driven interventions, partnerships between brands, experts, local communities and governments. The underlying aim is to enable the organic cotton sector to realize its full potential. From 2015 to 2018, NewForesight established the OCA secretariat to shape and drive its strategy, structure, and activities. The following is an overview of our work:

2015: Designing market-driven interventions at supply and demand side

  • We defined a clear organic cotton value proposition for crucial stakeholders and determined which pre-competitive root-cause issues could be tackled collectively.
  • NewForesight designed interventions on both the supply and demand side of organic cotton by linking apparel brands directly with organic cotton farmers in India and by ensuring access to seeds and finance.

2016: Prototyping interventions and measuring performance

  • By piloting interventions in various supply chains in India, NewForesight acquired the insights needed to refine, improve and scale up OCA’s approach (”proof of impact” phase).
  • After identifying various interventions, data from organic cotton pilot interventions was documented, and a real-time, digital monitoring and evaluation system was designed. The OCA secretariat translated this data into shared learning and communication opportunities for OCA partners and the sector as a whole.

2017: Growing the OCA movement from global to local

  • To maximize impact at the a global level, a growing movement was initiated when valuable insights were gathered from founding partners C&A, H&M, Kering, EILEEN FISHER, and Inditex.
  • These insights and the insights derived from the “proof of impact” phase initiated a collective action campaign. This engaged a larger group of sector stakeholders, including global brands such as Patagonia, Superdry and Carrefour, who then joined OCA.

2018: Scaling interventions and hand-over

  • A number of successful pilots rolled out in the supply chains of OCA partners enabled up-scaling of OCA interventions.
  • NewForesight guided the process of getting new OCA members involved in the sourcing intervention program and increased the size of its existing programs.
  • At the start of 2018, NewForesight gradually handed over the positions in the secretariat to others. NewForesight consultants had previously held the roles of General Director, Program Director, Program Officer and Communications Officer.

Two reasons why NewForesight was the right company to take this industry initiative forward – from strategy to implementation

  • In all sectors, NewForesight quickly understands the root causes of issues that prevent stakeholders from achieving their goals. Understanding the complexity of these issues enables NewForesight to design the right interventions to tackle them.
  • NewForesight combines experience in strategy design with management skills to effectively run and scale an organization’s operations by translating global priorities to achieve local impact.

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