The initiative is detailed in a briefing paper, which spells out 5 unique benefits that organic cotton production offers:
1. Give control to farmers, not GM companies
Organic farmers don’t have their choices controlled by GM companies.
According to the briefing, 95% of cotton in India is now controlled by major GM companies such as Monsanto, and this has yet to bring benefits for small-scale farmers dependent on the crop for their livelihoods. In some instances, this has been linked to the increasing number of farmer suicides across the cotton-growing regions of India.
The key message is to look carefully at certifications and standards and what promises they can deliver.
Fair Trade, Organic (GOTS or Organic Exchange) and Cotton Made in Africa cotton can be guaranteed to be GM-free, whilst conventional and Better Cotton Initiative cotton may come from GM seeds.
2. Eliminate hazardous synthetic pesticides
Organic cotton doesn’t use dangerous pesticides, protecting farmers’ lives and the environment.
The briefing reports that up to 77million cotton workers suffer poisoning from pesticides each year. Not only this but pesticides are expensive and land small-scale farmers in massive debts. And pesticides pollute freshwater lakes and rivers, our main sources of drinking water.
“3rd party accreditation [GOTS, Organic Exchange, Fairtrade, etc.] ensures credibility in the market place and preserves customer trust – you can be sure that the change you claim to be making is really happening on the ground” says Anne Gillespie of Textile Exchange.
3. Help farmers feed their families
Organic cotton enables farmers to grow other crops for food and income.
A low cotton price should leave the fashion sector wondering – who is really paying the price? The farmer who could get paid less for their harvest than it costs them to produce it? Or the environment, degraded and polluted by fertilisers and pesticides used with only profit in mind?
Cotton retailers can make sound investments by opting to take a long-term view. Building relationships with suppliers and committing to purchase in advance benefits everyone; it secures farmers’ income, helping farmers plan ahead and make investments to improve living standards and their farming practices, which in turn reduces the price of producing organic cotton.
4. Save precious water
Organic cotton uses less water, preserving a scarce and precious resource for the future.
Whilst natural materials are often more environmentally friendly than many man-made materials, cotton remains one of the thirstiest crops. Surprising to some, organic cotton actually uses less water because organic systems largely use rain fed water rather than irrigated, thus preserving important groundwater stores.
Plus, organic cotton keeps waterways cleaner and soils healthier meaning they are better at retaining water.
5. Combat climate change
Organic cotton farming uses less energy and healthy organic soils store more CO2
15kg C02e is emitted in the life of a cotton T-shirt, and 14% of these emissions are produced growing cotton alone.
By eliminating the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides and reducing nitrogen inputs, organic cotton produces up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions. Organic growing practices also can turn soil into a carbon ‘sink’, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Organic Production Comes on Top
“Consumers can be sure that a product carrying the GOTS ‘organic’ symbol is not only produced with a minimum of 95% organic fibre content but also processed to strict environmental and social criteria” says Claudia Kersten Marketing Director, GOTS.
Compared to conventional cotton and other cotton initiatives such as Cotton Made in Africa and Better Cotton Initiative, GOTS certified cotton is recognised as the highest standard for sustainable production.
GOTS is also the only certification system that offers a way to control chemicals used in production (with prohibition of hazardous substances, including the gender-bending nonyl phenyls).
Fairtrade organic cotton provides an added guarantee that farmers have received a price that covers the minimum cost of production, and similarly requires independent verification of production standards – at present about 19% of Fairtrade cotton is organically produced. However, GOTS does provide a minimum social criteria.
Fashion companies should look carefully at certifications and standards of cotton to ensure that they are delivering on their CSR and sourcing strategies.
And collectively, big brands can have a huge influence in driving down the price of organic cotton, making it totally affordable for consumers – as well as in improving livelihoods for some of the world’s poorest farmers and reducing harmful environmental impacts of the cotton industry.