It takes many different steps to produce the REWE and PENNY cotton shopping bags that customers use to take their purchases home: A bag will travel around 18,000 kilometres and go through about 10 processing steps – from the cultivation of the cotton itself to the processing in India and sea transport to Germany – before it reaches a REWE or PENNY store and goes to work.
Just what makes the bag so special? The raw material, first of all: Cotton is a natural fibre that has many positive qualities. It is skin friendly, soft, durable and washable. What’s more, the shopping bags are produced in accordance with the criteria of the PRO PLANET label and the international Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). As a result, they are made in a socially and environmentally conscious manner – from cultivating the plant in the field to making the final stitch. And, just recently, REWE Group gained the ability to track the entire supply chain. “We believe transparency is essential if we want to do business in a sustainable manner,” says Torsten Stau, Managing Director of Non-Food Products at REWE Group Buying.
“It’s not easy to create transparency. But we pulled it off with the help of our suppliers.”
“It’s not easy to create transparency,” Torsten Stau says. “But we pulled it off with the help of our suppliers, and we can now track every step all the back to cultivation.” The journey taken by cotton, what some refer to as white gold, begins in rural regions of western India and, occasionally, in central and southern parts of the country as well. The plantations here are run in a controlled organic manner, and the mature cotton bolls are picked by hand.
Before the bolls can be processed, impurities and seeds must be separated from them in a gin. The raw cotton produced in this manner is compressed into huge bales for transport to the spinning mills. Processing the raw materials is done in plants located in northern India. The next stage of processing, including packaging, is carried out by a number of certified companies in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. In the spinning mills, the huge fibre bales are combed, turned into smaller balls and then spun into yarn by machines.
Afterwards in weaving mills, the yarn is woven into almost endless lengths of material with the help of fully automated weaving looms. The finishing work comes next: It’s done to create brilliant colours, ease of care and a high level of stability in the nature fibres.
The material is then tailored, that is, sewn into shopping bags, and then packed for transport. Before being completed, the shopping bags undergo eight processing steps and a number of work stages. In the process, they travel about 5,000 kilometres. The shopping bags then cover more than 13,000 kilometres during the sea journey to Hamburg performed by Tuticorin or Navasheva. From there, they travel to the REWE Group’s central warehouse in Dietzenbach and, finally, to REWE and PENNY stores in Germany.
“Transparency about the supply chain is necessary to ensure that neither workers nor the environment is damaged during the production process,” says Torsten Stau, Managing Director of Non-Food Products at REWE Group Buying, who oversees the purchase of all non-food products. “For this reason, we have been asking our suppliers for several years now to tell us where our products are made, inspecting working conditions at plants with the help of audits and providing training to create improvements.” REWE Group also works closely with suppliers and non-government organisations to improve occupational and environmental conditions.
But just how can total transparency be created in a very complex supply chain – particularly one for textiles produced not only in different countries but also on different continents sometimes during various stages of processing? “The suppliers frequently know only their direct business partner,” Stau says. “To have total transparency, every supplier must contact his or her own suppliers and communicate our requirements.” The process took several months for the cotton shopping bags. Support for the effort came directly from the suppliers themselves. These individuals understand the importance of the work and are helping to lay open the details of the supply chain.
“We want to offer an environmentally conscious bag. This is why we select GOTS-certified suppliers.”
REWE and PENNY cotton shopping bags are produced in accordance with the strict criteria of the PRO PLANET label and are GOTS certified. The Global Organic Textile Standard is a worldwide benchmark that applies to the processing of textiles from organically produced natural fibres. This high-level standard defines the technical environmental requirements that apply to the entire textile production chain and the social criteria that must be followed. Quality assurance is provided by independent certification of the entire supply chain. “In the end, when making a purchase the GOTS label on the product provides consumers with certainty about an item that it was produced from the field to the consumer following the strict GOTS criteria,” says Lina Pfeifer, a representative for the German-speaking regions at the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS). The following criteria apply to all PRO PLANET cotton shopping bags with the GOTS labels: All fibres are produced by controlled organic farms. No pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used to grow the cotton for the shopping bags. No genetic engineering is used. No questionable substances may be used in the entire production process. The fibres are bleached exclusively with environmentally friendly oxygen and not chlorine. No hazardous heavy metals or formaldehydes are used in the dyeing and refinement process. Only environmentally conscious inks are used for overprints. In addition, producers of the cotton shopping bags must offer a healthy work environment to employees and pay fair wages.
“In the end, when making a purchase the GOTS label on the product provides consumers with certainty about an item that it was produced from the field to the consumer following the strict GOTS criteria.”