Every month Fairtrade Canada puts the spotlight on one or more Fairtrade certified product categories. In August we enjoy the natural beauty of Fairtrade cotton. From practical tote bags, bedding and towels to whimsical baby clothing and accessories, the FAIRTRADE Mark can be found on a growing number of textile products in Canada.

About Cotton

Cotton is grown in more than 100 countries, taking up 2.5% of all arable land. Ninety million rural households in developing countries are directly engaged in cotton production. However, government subsidies for cotton production in countries such as China and the US total over $6billion, meaning that cotton from these markets can flood international markets at prices below the actual cost of production. This often makes it difficult for farmers in developing countries to export their cotton at sustainable prices.

There are many other concerns with conventional cotton production:

  • Intensive pesticide use creates health problems for workers and environmental concerns.
  • Child and forced labour are major concerns in cotton production in India as well as Central Asia.
  • Prices on international markets are volatile, but on an overall downward trend.
  • Climate change & falling yields are affecting many farmers.

The difference that Fairtrade Makes

Although it was introduced in 2005, Fairtrade cotton still has significant room for growth in Canada and around the world. The Fairtrade Standards for cotton prohibit child and forced labour and stipulate safe use of chemicals.

The Fairtrade Minimum Price varies from region to region, but is intended to support sustainable production based on local conditions, no matter how low the international market drops. An additional Fairtrade Premium is paid which is invested by producers in farm and community improvements.

There are 22 producer organizations which represent 54,700 farmers in seven countries in Africa and Asia. The average farm size is 1.1 hectares.

In 2014 sales increased 21% globally to 19,399 tonnes. However, this was only 43% of the total cotton produced by Fairtrade certified farms – more markets and sales are needed for farmers to see the full potential of Fairtrade.

Those sales resulted in an estimated Fairtrade Premium received of $1.4 million CAD, of which 36% was invested to support education in cotton farming communities.

By selling Fairtrade cotton products, businesses are contributing to a more sustainable future for cotton farmers, their communities and the environment. And by buying them, consumers are choosing products that change lives. We encourage you to support our existing cotton licensees: glo and Oasis Bags. And why not ask other textile manufacturers to source Fairtrade cotton?

For a more detailed look at Fairtrade Cotton, please read the 2015 Cotton Commodity Briefing prepared by our colleagues at the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK. We also recommend these videos about the impact of Fairtrade cotton production in Senegal – either a short 3-minute summary, or a more-detailed 11-minute version.