As mentioned two weeks ago, this year’s International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) Meeting will
take place October 7-12 at the Congress Centre Kursaal Interlaken, in Switzerland. The theme of the
congress is “Shaping Sustainability in the Cotton Value Chain.” Over the next few weeks, the Rupp
Report will focus on this event with a selection of issues related to the congress agenda. This
week, the eye is on Switzerland and its organizing committee.
Switzerland has a very long tradition in the entire textile business. From the past,
insiders divided the country into five basic sectors: silk, cotton, embroidery, narrow fabrics, and
chemicals and finishing. For centuries, Switzerland, and mainly the Zurich area with all its silk
spinners and weavers around Lake Zurich, was the center of the global silk trade, up to the 1980s,
when the Chinese started to trade silk on their own and that silk became a commodity.
Cotton was located in the old town of St. Gallen. After the Industrial Revolution began in
Britain, the Swiss cotton spinners discovered hydropower. They placed countless spinning mills
along countless rivers throughout the region of the mid and eastern part of Switzerland. Most of
those mills have disappeared today.
Embroidery goes along with cotton. St. Gallen is still the center of embroidery in
Switzerland. Most of the embroidered fabrics, which can be seen on the high fashion catwalks around
the globe, are coming from St. Gallen.
The ribbon and narrow fabrics industry settled with the arrival of the French Huguenots in
the cantons of Basel and Aargau, where some of them are still producing narrow fabrics and ribbons.
The early expression for ribbons was “passements,” so the people were called “passementiers.”
Last, but not least, are chemicals and, consequently, finishing. This industry started
centuries ago near or in the town of Basel, where some either still have their headquarters or have
moved recently to Singapore. Most of these companies started their businesses with chemicals and
dyestuffs for textile dyeing.
Today, Switzerland is still among the biggest suppliers of high quality textile machinery,
and its machinery is recognized for its reliability and excellent price/quality ratio.
But these historic facts are not the only reasons for hosting the 71st ICAC meeting in
Interlaken: It’s more that the issues to be discussed at the event go along with the people’s
increasing environmental consciousness. On top of that, Switzerland has developed a quite
successful business sector with sustainable textile products in some department stores and retail
shops. Or, as Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch – state secretary of the State Secretariat for
Economic Affairs (SECO), and a member of the co-organizing committee – said: “What has started as
real experimental pioneer work has become a matter of course – for enterprises as well as
consumers. In order to advance this case and to share experiences, we wish to follow up during the
ICAC conference in Interlaken on previous discussions on sustainability that have taken place over
the past years.”
Ineichen-Fleisch also mentioned another reason SECO became active in this sector: “The
potential for sustainability in the cotton value chain is also the reason why Switzerland addresses
the issue as an element of the work of the Economic Cooperation and Development Division of the
SECO. The aim of these cotton related activities is to improve livelihoods and thus contribute to
poverty alleviation in developing countries and countries in transition through trade promotion.”
Set And Improve Framework Conditions
According to SECO, one approach toward reaching the goal is to set and improve framework
conditions. In this regard, SECO is engaged through Geneva-based IDEAS Centre to support the Cotton
4 — comprising the African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — in order to strengthen
their negotiation capacity and, therefore, to better defend their interests in the Doha Development
Round, as only the informed and effective influence on cotton subsidy programs may contribute to
reaching acceptable cotton price levels. IDEAS is an independent nonprofit organization that
provides support to low-income countries to help them integrate into the world trading system.
Another approach is to strengthen competitiveness of cotton market participants through
differentiation of the products because this supports better integration into the world market. In
this regard, SECO works along the cotton supply chain to implement private voluntary sustainability
systems. SECO has been a leading supporter of fair trade and organic production, and it has helped
to introduce sustainable consumption and production patterns through projects in Kyrgyzstan and
West Africa, working in cooperation with Switzerland-based nongovernmental organization (NGO)
Helvetas Swiss to develop sustainable cotton value chains.
The program has benefited approximately 10,000 cotton farmers in the partner countries by
providing increased incomes, improved working conditions and an improved social infrastructure in
their villages. In addition to supporting niche market sustainability systems, SECO has long
supported the establishment among multiple stakeholders of sustainability initiatives and
roundtables for agricultural commodities.
SECO also contributes to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which aims to bring
sustainability into the mainstream in the cotton value chain. During the 2011-12 season, BCI and
its partners worked with 125,000 cotton farmers in Brazil, India, Pakistan and West Africa. The
initiative also is involved in activities in China, and many other countries have expressed an
interest in participating in its program.
Let’s give Ineichen-Fleisch the final words in this Rupp Report: “As a host, we believe that
Interlaken will be the perfect place to discuss and try out new forms of dialogue: small and
scenic, situated between mountains and lakes, this venue will help us to focus and have a frank
exchange of views. We also hope that new stakeholders will take the opportunity to join in and
enrich our discussions.”
The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), based in Washington, was founded in
1939. At that time, global cotton stocks totaled nearly 25 million bales, more than half of which
were located in the United States. ICAC states its mission is “to assist governments in fostering a
healthy world cotton economy. The role of the ICAC is to raise awareness, to provide information
and to serve as a catalyst for cooperative action on issues of international significance.”
September 4, 2012