Sugna and Nandaram Jat, Pratibha Cotton Farm, India, ©Suzanne Lee

Cotton is grown on around 35 million hectares worldwide. The main cotton producing countries are China, India, Pakistan, and the US. Around 100 million rural households are engaged in cotton production in more than 75 countries across the globe, making it a $51.4 billion business in 2013-14. 

Ninety percent of the world’s cotton farmers live in developing countries, which is where Fairtrade focuses its efforts. Most Fairtrade small producer organizations are based in West Africa – namely Mali, Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. India has become another important production country, growing the most Fairtrade certified cotton globally. Products made from Fairtrade cotton include clothing, bags, and homeware items such as towels.

Fairtrade Cotton Facts

  • There currently are a total of 22 Fairtrade certified producer organizations for seed cotton across seven countries, representing 54,700 smallholder farmers, according to the 2015 Fairtrade Monitoring and Impact Report.

  • 65 percent of Fairtrade cotton farmers also hold organic certification.

  • Of the 22 Fairtrade cotton producer organizations, 13 are small producer organizations with a concentration in West Africa. Nine are contract production organizations in India that sell their cotton to an intermediary organization that supports them in the process of forming independent cooperatives.

  • In 2013-14, Fairtrade farmers sold 19,300 tonnes of cotton on Fairtrade terms and received more than one million euros in Fairtrade Premium payments.

  • The farmers invested about 41 percent of the Fairtrade Premium in community projects for education, healthcare and infrastructure development. A further 34 percent of Fairtrade Premium was used to supply direct services to cotton farmers, such as training and tools.

Fairtrade Impact for Small-scale Cotton Farmers

Fairtrade cotton farmers benefit from the Fairtrade Minimum Price which aims to cover the cost of sustainable production and provides farmers with a safety net against sudden drops in market prices.

The Fairtrade Premium, which is paid on top of the selling price, provides additional income that the farmers democratically decide to invest in their businesses, families and communities.

In addition, small-scale farmers selling their cotton on Fairtrade terms can request pre-financing from buyers, which is vital to keeping their operations running before they are able to harvest their cotton.

Beyond these financial benefits, requirements in the Fairtrade Standards protect farmers’ health and safety, promote efficient water usage, and ban dangerous chemicals and genetically modified cotton seeds. A large percentage of Fairtrade cotton is also organic certified. Fairtrade encourages and empowers cotton farmers to protect the natural environment as an integral part of their farm management.

Under the Fairtrade Cotton Program, introduced in 2014, companies work together with Fairtrade and cotton cooperatives to continue increasing their impact for farmers and their communities. Click here to learn more about this program.

See highlights from our most recent monitoring and impact report below. You can also download the full report or view our Impact and Research section for more reports on Fairtrade.

Challenges for Small-scale Cotton Farmers

Just five countries – China, India, the US, Pakistan and Brazil – produce the majority of the roughly 26 million tonnes of cotton harvested in each year.  Together with the European Union and Turkey, they are also among the major subsidizers of domestic cotton, a policy which keeps world cotton prices artificially low. This puts pressure on West African farmers, whose governments cannot afford to subsidize their production in a similar way. Moreover, West African farmers also face high export and transportation costs, since most of their cotton must travel to Asia for further processing.

Cotton production is linked to several environmental issues: Extensive usage of agrochemicals and excessive use of water put fresh water supplies for local populations at risk. Unpredictable weather conditions, like heavy rainfalls and prolonged droughts, endanger the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Fairtrade works with farmers to ban or reduce the usage of agrochemicals and supports them to adapt to changing climate patters. Moreover, Fairtrade cotton fields in Western Africa and India are rain-fed, reducing the region’s water footprint, when compared with production in other countries.

Since the introduction of Fairtrade cotton, Fairtrade’s goal has been to also address the unsafe and unfair labour conditions in cotton processing and textile production factories. In 2016, Fairtrade introduced the new Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme to reach people at all stages of textile production chains – from seed cotton to finished textile products.

General Cotton Facts

  • Cotton seeds are very robust. If the wind blows them onto the sea, they might travel thousands of miles without losing their ability to sprout once they arrive on a new shore.

  • Seed cotton fibres are first separated from the seed during ginning to form lint, and then spun into yarn. The yarn is used to manufacture textile goods.

  • Organic certified cotton only accounts for about 1 percent of the world’s cotton output, while genetically modified cotton accounts for around 81 percent of cotton planted globally.  Fairtrade does not certify any cotton seeds that are known to be genetically modified.

  • Cotton is used for a lot more than textiles: for example, as padding in furniture and automobiles, and in plastics, lacquers, fodder, cottonseed oil and cordage.

Recent Fairtrade News on Cotton


One Year into the Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme: An Update

26 April 2017

The Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme were launched one year ago. Although certified products have not yet hit the shelves, Fairtrade and our partners have been working hard behind the scenes to achieve improvements in...


New Study Finds Environmental and Social Footprint of Fairtrade Cotton to be Five Times Lower

22 April 2017

Unless cotton is farmed sustainably, its production leaves a heavy environmental and social toll which will affect its long term viability.


Fairtrade Farmers and Workers continue to benefit from Growing Sales and Increased Fairtrade Premium Investments

11 April 2017

This week saw the official launch of the 8th edition of the Monitoring the Scope and Benefits of Fairtrade report by Fairtrade International, covering data from 2014-2015.

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Buying and Selling Fairtrade

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