Ladies and Gentlemen, I am enormously grateful to you for joining today's High Level Meeting on Sustainable Cotton and that so many of you are here to celebrate The Sustainable Cotton Communiqué, through which thirteen companies have committed to using 100 per cent sustainable cotton in their products by 2025. This is a hugely encouraging step that will hopefully spur wider action across the sector and go a long way in helping to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts that are all too often associated with cotton production.
I can only say how greatly I appreciate your willingness to to take this step and to set an example for others to follow. I would particularly like to express special gratitude to Mike Barry from Marks & Spencer and Lord Melchett from The Soil Association, who have been invaluable in bringing together the group of companies, N.G.O.s and standards organizations gathered here. It is also very encouraging indeed to see Organic, the Better Cotton Initiative and Fairtrade coming together in this enterprise, along with so many major companies.
As some of you may possibly have discovered by now, I have for quite some time - I should say rather a long time now - been deeply committed to promoting the sustainable management of the world's natural resources and the improvement of agricultural practices to ensure that both the environment and the livelihoods of smallholders and farmers are protected.
Through the initiative I established in the wool sector over the past six years, I have become acutely aware of the potentially damaging environmental impacts associated with the production of clothing. Cotton production is all too often associated with the depletion of local water supplies and the widespread, and sometimes indiscriminate, use of harmful pesticides and, as all of you know only too well, it can take a heavy toll on human health.
Climate change will make this situation worse, with higher temperatures and changing rain patterns likely to cause more severe water shortages in important cotton-growing regions. Taken with the increasing prevalence of pests and diseases, it is hard to imagine that yields will not be affected. And, as with other agricultural commodities, cotton is also beset by rising costs of production and market volatility, making it difficult for farmers to make a decent living. Sustainable cotton production has the added benefit of reducing some of those risk factors considerably and can make a significant contribution to healthy economic growth and higher farm incomes.
This communiqué therefore signals a powerful commitment by some of the most well-known clothing and textile companies to put the sector on a more sustainable path, and to ensure its long term viability. There are, of course, many examples of excellent work already happening across the cotton supply chain to improve social and environmental standards, and I know most of you are already achieving or are set to achieve the goals set out in the communiqué. However, while your own actions are both encouraging and praiseworthy, durable change will obviously require sector-wide transformation, with sustainable cotton becoming the rule, rather than the exception. With the range of sustainability codes and standards available to companies, and with the costs of doing nothing so high, it seems to me that there can be few reasons why all companies which use cotton should not match the ambitious commitments set out in the communiqué.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can only thank you once again for gathering here today to make this pledge and you have my very best wishes for the success of this vitally important initiative.