The Fairtrade Cotton Program

The Fairtrade Cotton Program unlocks exciting new opportunities for cotton farmers to improve their lives through Fairtrade. It connects farmers with the growing number of businesses seeking to make sustainable cotton a core part of their business. They want to use more Fairtrade cotton in their manufacturing of clothing and textiles, rather than create a specific Fairtrade cotton range. This means more Fairtrade sales for farmers and more ways to support Fairtrade through your shopping.

The opportunity for cotton farmers

Fairtrade cotton focusses on the people at the very bottom of the textile supply chain - the farmers who pick the raw cotton, who often earn barely enough to cover their costs.

Through Fairtrade, thousands of cotton farmers have already improved their lives. Cotton cooperatives have become better organized, farmers are more productive and women are receiving the same rewards as male farmers, from voting rights to equal pay.

Fairtrade works with some 66,000 cotton farmers, mainly in West Africa and India, in some of the poorest regions in the world. But up to now, very few have been able to sell most or all of their cotton on Fairtrade terms. Meanwhile, globally there are between 35 and 50 million small-scale cotton farmers – all in need of a fairer deal for their cotton. There’s still a lot more that Fairtrade can do.

So it’s exciting that several global brands have announced commitments to source around two million tonnes of sustainable cotton by 2015. The new Fairtrade Cotton Program means farmers can take advantage of these commitments, and potentially sell much more of their cotton on Fairtrade terms.

How the Fairtrade Cotton Program works

Cotton goes through lots of manufacturing stages before it’s turned into a t-shirt, dress or towel. For an item to bear the FAIRTRADE Cotton Mark, that cotton is tracked all the way from farm to shop shelf: that makes it fully traceable, but it’s a long, complex process. Companies can’t always separate out the Fairtrade cotton in their factories and production process, so the number of businesses working with Fairtrade cotton has been limited.

The Fairtrade Cotton Program removes that barrier. Companies can buy Fairtrade cotton in bulk, mixing it with other cotton and fibres as needed. That way they can really increase the amount of Fairtrade cotton they buy, to 10%, 20%, 40% of their business, or even more.

Brands can communicate their overall sourcing achievements under the Fairtrade Cotton Program once they’ve met an agreed volume of Fairtrade cotton, find out how here.

What the Fairtrade Cotton Program means for farmers

“We need more Fairtrade sales to ensure that small and marginal farmers can continue to be in sustainable cotton farming. We are pleased about the new Fairtrade Cotton Program because we hope it will give us more ways to sell our cotton, and more ways for consumers to support us."
Pravakar Meher, Pratima organic grower group, Odisha, India.

The Fairtrade Cotton Program creates another way for cotton farmers to benefit from selling their cotton on Fairtrade terms, to more types of businesses than before.

Farmers will receive all the same Fairtrade benefits, including the protection of a Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium. More sales mean more of these benefits rolling into their farms and communities.

An increase in Fairtrade cotton sales will also enable Fairtrade to invest in additional support programs. This would support cotton farmers to make their farms more environmentally friendly, reduce water use or buy new equipment for example. Many farmers need this kind of support to make their cotton farms thrive, so that year after year they can invest in their business and improve their livelihoods.

Read more on how Fairtrade works here.

Watch this short film to see how Fairtrade is making a difference to West African cotton farmers, and how they could achieve much more through more sales.

The future of Fairtrade cotton

Small-scale farmers and agricultural workers are at the heart of Fairtrade’s work and vision. That’s why our focus to date has been on the cotton farmers, at the bottom of the long textile supply chain. But we’re well aware that there are thousands of workers in the textile industry, also in need of a better deal.

That’s why Fairtrade is working to develop a textile standard and programs over the next few years, in close collaboration with trade unions, industry experts and NGOs. This is an important step towards ensuring that Fairtrade benefits both cotton farmers and textile workers in future.

To find out more about Fairtrade cotton farmers, read our dedicated cotton page.

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