“We need solidarity.”
Torsten Stau on work wear, cooperation with civil society, and CmiA in the mass market
Mr. Stau, you are responsible for many areas at the REWE Group. What do you do exactly?
Within the REWE Group, I am responsible for the areas of purchasing and category management non-food, capital and consumer goods as well as PENNY Online. In addition, I am the CEO of HLS GmbH, which stands for Handel-und Lager-Service, a trade and warehouse service provider. And finally, Non-Executive Director of REWE Far East Ltd., the procurement organization of the REWE Group, which procures goods from the Asian market for the REWE Group.
The REWE Group has been a partner of CmiA for many years. It has continuously increased its demand for CmiA cotton. How can business and sustainability be combined?
At the start of the cooperation 10 years ago, our share of more sustainable cotton was 15 percent. Today it’s over 70 percent, with the aim of converting to 100 percent for all private label textile products by 2025. To achieve this goal, we rely on the Cotton made in Africa raw material, which ensures both ecological and social improvements at the beginning of the supply chain, thus helping us to live up to our responsibility in the value chain. On the other hand, we have now managed to ensure that CmiA can hold its own in price competition with conventional cotton.
What feedback on CmiA do you get from employees, customers and media?
In 2016, we started to switch our work wear to CmiA. This will be the case for all workwear in Germany by 2020. In addition, we regularly inform our employees about CmiA through activities. Externally, we inform the public about this successful cooperation through various formats and on various occasions. Internal and external feedback is entirely positive.
You have many years of experience in the international textile industry. How do you assess the development of the topic of sustainability?
Demand for more sustainable cotton has evolved from a niche to a mass market. CmiA also has its share in this. In terms of content, a lot was added: Whereas in the 1990s, we were almost exclusively concerned with social issues, today, also ecological issues increasingly have to be solved.
Do you have an example of this?
Many. Another very striking signal sent against disposable plastic was when the REWE Group became the first retailer in Germany to discontinue selling extremely non-durable plastic straws across the board in spring 2019. We are also getting deeper and deeper into the supply chain. A good example of this are our activities as part of the Detox campaign, with which we are eliminating harmful chemicals from lower levels of textile production in order to help protect water as a resource. In addition, many industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives have emerged, such as the ‘Bündnis für nachhaltige Textilien’ (Alliance for Sustainable Textiles). A joint commitment is often more effective and efficient than individual activities. We are also responding to the growing demand for transparency.
Do you also face challenges when implementing CmiA?
Sure. This is particularly true in countries that are themselves strong producers of cotton. There, the question of price is much more difficult to implement.
If you had one wish, what would the textile industry look like in the future?
We need even more industry solutions and market participants to join forces to implement social and ecological requirements within the value chain. This applies vertically in the supply chain for suppliers and production sites as well as horizontally for cooperation between companies. To achieve this, we first need more transparency in the value chains. In order to change basic conditions, companies must also cooperate with civil society, governments, and standard organizations.
Agri Exim has approached CmiA end of 2018 during the Cotton Expert House Annual Conference in Kampala with the interest to become a partner of the Cotton made in Africa Initiative. Soon after this encounter in Uganda, the AbTF and Agri Exim kicked-off the on-boarding process, and after successful competition of the verification missions for the ginnery – conducted end of January 2019 – and on field level – carried out in September 2019 – now is the second certified partner in Uganda.
Here is a portrait of the company presented by Varun Bhassin, CEO of Agri Exim Uganda:
Agri Exim was founded in 2012 in an age when going organic & natural was still more of a luxury than a lifestyle. Our main goal – which remains true today – was to make quality ingredients more accessible to global customers, while making our credible farmers economically secure and productive. We recognized that there were so many farmers in communities who had the potential to offer high-quality products, but no way to scale or market them. We equipped them with the necessary education and the tools, so they could realize their full potential and their vision.
What started as a small attempt to assist our farmers has today grown into a thriving, rewarding operation delivering certified-organic & natural products worldwide. With a presence in over five countries and a farmer community over 17,000 strong, we still work at the ground level. We work closely with our farmers to assist them in identifying opportunities to maximize their land’s output potential and support them through the provisions of necessary guidance resources to reach their goal. We stand behind them through the entire process – from training camps to cultivation to harvest – and guarantee the purchase of their yield at a premium. Agri Exim provides a global platform for local farmers to market their product, and make sure that they get the best return for their hard work.
Our hands-on approach ensures that the entire supply chain right from cultivation all the way to packaging passes through stringent globally accredited quality standards. We are thoroughly involved and oversee every step of the manufacturing process, and our rigorous quality checks ensure that our customers get the finest local product, without any compromise.
For Agri Exim’s cotton supply chain in Uganda, our ginnery is situated in Iceme, in the north of Uganda in the district of Oyam. It was acquired in early 2018. We currently work with about 10,000 small holder farmers out of which 3,540 farmers have been certified CmiA.
Agri Exim services the sustainable food and non-food industry and thus ensures that its farmers are paid fair prices. With a strive to ensure a sustainable market for its cotton farmers, Agri Exim decided on CmiA to be its certification partner.
CmiA’s first partner in Burkina Faso, the cotton company Faso Coton, launched in October 2018 in a community project with the financial support from S. Oliver, and realized the construction of two boreholes in the villages of Doubgin and Thiougou by March 2019.
Initiated in close collaboration with local committees, the project quickly gained the support of the local communities. The construction took place in two stages, starting with an outreach phase to the communities of the populations and the other to the operational phase.
The communities were first made aware of the risks associated with diseases caused by the consumption of unsafe water. A few months later, the construction of the boreholes started under the supervision of the local committees set up by the village. Faso Coton’s approach was to set up these committees with seven or eight members, including five women, to manage the borehole in the long-term. There are trained persons for the maintenance of the borehole, and the committee is responsible to collect funds for routine maintenance, spare parts and any other necessary repairs. The committee is supported by the local authorities and the community as such.
Once the boreholes were up and running, the beneficiaries were interviewed in April and May 2019 on their views and opinions in order to evaluate the short-term impact of the project.
In total, more than 2250 people use the boreholes on daily basis for both domestic and commercial purposes. The most outstanding result from the impact interviews is a significant amount of time that is saved for the tasks to collect safe drinking water for the households. Women and children, mainly girls, safe two to four hours per day, which they had to spend to collect water from remote places. While children can invest this time in learning for school, women report to devote the ‘gained’ time in economic activities, such as picking, processing and selling of local products like shea butter or néré.
In conclusion, the project succeeded in having a very positive impact on the livelihoods of community members, specifically in
- Protecting the health of community members by providing clean and safe drinking water, thus reducing water-borne diseases
- Reducing the challenges and burden of fetching water for women and girls specifically
- Improving school attendance and learning success of children, specifically girls by reducing their time spent on household chores
- Strengthening women’s economic activities
For the benefit of the female producers
Josia Coulibaly on sustainability in the cotton business, women in Africa and her assertiveness in the village
Ms. Coulibaly, you are responsible for corporate responsibility and sustainability at SECO, a cotton branch of a company of the Olam Group and a wholesaler of agricultural goods. What is your main role?
Together with my department, I develop and implement programs and activities to benefit our partners. The focus is on creating living landscapes where prosperous farmers and thriving communities live in harmony with healthy ecosystems.
One aspect of working in-line with the CmiA standard is empowering female farmers. How are the female cotton farmers organized?
We work with registered individual producers as well as with organized women’s associations, registered under the name of their president. In addition to their fields where they grow food crops, they have a common plot where they work one or two days a week — often earning their own income for the first time. Revenue is collectively spent to benefit the community, such as fixing water pumps and other social actions.
Are there any initiatives you have set up to specifically assist female cotton farmers?
Yes, selected women’s groups are trained by us with the support of external partners in associative life, entrepreneurship and the establishment of ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations’ (VSLAs). Although these initiatives are carried out for the benefit of female cotton producers, they are also open to other women in the villages. In 2018, 543 women participated in these activities. At the end of the season, there is a celebration in which they were officially recognized and rewarded to encourage other women to do the same. I am proud that our work to support women even attracted the international press – our work got featured in the newspaper “The Telegraph” among others.
Do you get different feedback from men and women?
Some producers report significant improvements in their living conditions. They also participate financially in community projects and are more involved in meetings on decisions. It is a great challenge to undertake activities that are culturally undesirable, for example access to land. That’s difficult.
How did you manage to be accepted as a woman in the villages?
My first experience was in the village of Yedandiekaha. I was there for a broken water pump. People were amazed to see such a young lady and wondered what she was doing here. But when I came back again and again, the villagers learned that my visits are always linked to a social initiative or a project for them.
And how does SECO work on equal opportunities for men and women in their own company?
Olam International has a non-discrimination charter that promotes equality for all people without discrimination. An internal mentoring system called ‘GROW’ (Globally Reaching Olam Women) has been set up in order to coach women to take on greater professional responsibilities.
The Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) was invited to present the Cotton made in Africa initiative at the French Cotton Association (AFCOT) conference, which was held in Deauville on September 30th and October 1st, 2019. Over 300 people from five continents took part in the event. The CmiA Representative in Western and Central Africa, Younoussa Imorou Ali, gave a presentation titled “Major Sustainability Trends and Effects for Producers”.
Key messages of the speech included the AbTF’s conviction that sustainability actually is more than a trend, but a phenomenon which is here to stay. It has been embedded at national legislation and corporate policy level. Successful organisations promote its implementation and work on developing more sustainable and transparent production. An ever-increasing number of consumers around the world demand that their goods are sustainably produced and expect that the can trace their products back to their origins via clear and transparent value- and supply chains. If the cotton industry is to cope with these ever-increasing demands, it too needs to become more sustainable and transparent. The Cotton made in Africa Standard and the Aid by Trade Foundation can play a key role in enabling stakeholders within the cotton producing countries and regions of Sub-Saharan Africa to make this shift.
The discussion, which followed the presentation, was driven by three major questions: First, who can become a CmiA partner and how is the process. Secondly, why CmiA is not implemented in more countries. Finally, it was questioned whether the currently achieved impact through trainings and additional community projects is sufficient to justify the efforts made by farmers to change their system from “conventional” to “sustainable”. While the first two questions were straight forward to answer, the last question is rather considered a major task and long-term work assignment to CmiA.
The Aid by Trade Foundation thanks the French Cotton Association for the opportunity to give the cotton industry’s executives food for thought and vice versa.
Picture: © Francois Louchet
Symbol of light and freedom
Boaz Ogola on higher harvests, girl dormitories and the feeling of carrying a very special torch
Mr. Ogola, what role do you play in the Alliance Tanzania cotton company?
I am responsible for managing the day-to-day business operations, but I also represent the company in all government affairs and of course those relating to village communities. In addition, I coordinate, supervise, and manage the implementation of all CmiA projects.
Alliance Tanzania has been working with CmiA since 2014, and its first certificate was issued in 2015. How has your business developed since then?
Remarkable. Our employees are extremely motivated as a result of our efforts to promote decent working conditions, including gender equality. This leads to better harvests, high productivity, and a close relationship with the people who work near our factory, especially with those farmers who benefit from community projects. Our cotton intake has increased as a result of our commitment to contract farming, and cotton quality has improved enormously through training for farmers.
Alliance Tanzania is also committed to improving the livelihoods of cotton growing communities. Can you give a brief overview of the projects?
Together with CmiA we were able to realize a number of joint projects. The old building at the Kasoli Health Center was renovated and a maternity ward was set up to reduce the mortality rates of expecting mothers and infants. We also installed wells in various places and built water collection systems in schools, health centers, and vegetable gardens to improve the community’s nutritional situation. To improve the inadequate school infrastructure, we also put up twelve modern classrooms, 30 pit latrines, and a girls’ dormitory at Mwamlapa Secondary School together with CmiA.
Is there anything that truly stands out from your commitment to the village communities?
Our joint work and efforts for the Simiyu region have received a great deal of attention. We received a tribute visit by the ‘Uhuru Torch’ during the official handover of the classroom project and the ‘Busese’ water project. This torch represents freedom and light and is carried every year on a different route through the country. Being the national symbol that it is, it was a great honor for me to hold the torch.
Do you already have plans for 2019 to achieve similar success?
What really counts is that people’s life are getting better - the community still needs a lot of support, whether in terms of health, education, or water and sanitation. In 2019, our focus will be heavily on education. In addition to new classroom buildings for primary and secondary schools and the expansion of the girls’ dormitory with kitchen and dining room, we will also start building a vocational training center at Kasoli Ward, the region in which many of our contract farmers live.
In your opinion, which are the three decisive tasks for making the cotton industry in Tanzania fit for the future?
First of all, I would extend the concept of contract farming to a larger region in order to provide smallholder farmers with the necessary knowledge to increase their productivity. I would also provide quality training in sustainable cotton production to include good agricultural practices, conservation tillage or Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM). Last but not least, further support for the rural communities is needed by helping to ensure that the villagers are healthy and happy.