By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Jan 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fashion giant Ralph Lauren Corp, whose designs are sashayed on Hollywood's red carpets, has unveiled plans to trace wood pulp used in its clothes to avoid buying from regions destroying forests or violating human rights.
Rising cotton prices have boosted demand for wood-based fabrics such as viscose, rayon and modal, which increasingly involves clearing forests and taking land used by indigenous people, according to Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Ralph Lauren is the latest in a growing number of fashion companies to pledge to investigate its supply chain to determine if it is using products from the most destructive regions and stop using those sources by the end of 2017, said RAN.
RAN's "Out of Fashion" campaign to publicize the impacts of forest-based fabrics has called on major U.S. brands to adopt stringent, sustainable sourcing systems.
Ralph Lauren said it will publish its new sourcing guidelines as part of a broader initiative to ensure its raw materials are free of human and land rights abuses and are environmentally sustainable.
"This initiative demonstrates Ralph Lauren's commitment to the environment with responsible and traceable sourcing, which we believe will create a positive impact on ecosystems and global communities," Halide Alagoz, Ralph Lauren's head of global sourcing, said in a statement on Friday.
Actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp have made red carpet appearances in Ralph Lauren's luxury designs, and U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wore Ralph Lauren pant suits in all three debates last fall.
It also makes the more casual Polo brand and has been designing the colorful opening ceremony uniforms worn by the U.S. Olympic teams.
CONCERNS OVER LAND RIGHTS, RAINFORESTS
H&M, Zara, ASOS, Levi Strauss & Co and British fashion designer Stella McCartney have adopted similar sourcing policies, RAN said.
Last year Stella McCartney partnered with environmental non-profit Canopy to encourage clothing companies to stop sourcing fabric from ancient and endangered forests.
RAN has targeted Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Kors, Guess, Forever 21, Under Armour and Foot Locker to adopt similar policies. Abercrombie declined to comment, and the other companies did not respond to requests for comment.
Brihannala Morgan, RAN senior forest campaigner, said Ralph Lauren had no way to trace its wood pulp sources before adopting this policy which the environmental group helped develop.
"Ralph Lauren's new policy sends a signal to producers in countries like Indonesia, where the production of pulp for fabrics has been devastating to indigenous and forest-dependent communities," RAN said in a statement.
Production of wood pulp can involve clearing forests to build eucalyptus plantations, taking land traditionally used by indigenous communities, campaigners say.
Indonesia is a major producer of wood pulp and the world's largest producer of palm oil, both of which campaigners say endanger the Southeast Asian nation's rainforests.
Global Forest Watch estimates Indonesia lost 18.5 million hectares (70,000 sq. miles) of tree cover from 2001 to 2014.
Ralph Lauren did not give details on how much pulp it uses from Indonesia.
Morgan said it was heartening to see fashion brands starting to take responsibility for their supply chains.
"(This) can have a real positive impact for forests and the people that depend on them," she said. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Alisa Tang and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, land rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)