Michael Otto has transformed the mail-order company founded by his father, Werner, into an international trade group with sales of €12 billion, or $13.5 billion, in the 2014/15 business year. He joined the company in 1971 as chief procurement officer before taking over as chief executive, a position he held from 1981 to 2007. He is currently chairman of the executive board.
In 2005, Mr. Otto established the foundation Aid by Trade. One of its main projects is “Cotton made in Africa,” which focuses on sustainable cotton production with its own product label. Numerous retailers, including C&A and Tom Tailer, are among the licensed customers. The foundation also trains small cotton farmers and invests in schools.
Handelsblatt: The fashion industry was mentioned in the closing statement of the G7 summit because of recent accidents in textile manufacturing, such as those in Bangladesh and Pakistan. As a business owner, do you feel partly responsible for the abuses?
Mr. Otto: The Otto Group was never directly affected by these accidents, which is probably due to our strict local inspections. Nevertheless, I have been trying to meet our responsibility for decades, partly with the foundation I established, which together with the Cotton Made in Africa initiative promotes sustainable cotton production. I’m making a personal donation of another €1 million ($1.1 billion) to mark the foundation’s 10-year anniversary.
What’s the money for?
It will go to a joint cooperation program designed to support social projects, such as school construction, strengthening women’s rights, healthcare, adult education and conservation. CmiA promotes the production of socially and environmentally sustainable cotton from Africa, as well as better social living conditions for 5 million people in 10 African countries.