Market Update

The share of more sustainable cotton increased from 8% of global supply in the 2014/15 season to 12% in 2015/16, and is forecast to reach 15% for the 2016/17 season – approximately 3.4 million metric tonnes of cotton lint.

The volume of more sustainable cotton actively sourced by brands and retailers increased from 17% of available supply in 2015 to approximately 21% in 2016, still leaving 79% of more sustainable cotton traded as conventional cotton.

market Gap is still too wide

Recognition that uptake is essential in stimulating production and mainstreaming more sustainable cotton has spread widely across the industry. However, most cotton produced globally is still conventional cotton. And of all more sustainable cotton produced, 79% is not sourced actively by brands and retailers. The increase in uptake is welcome but the gap between supply and demand is still too wide. For more sustainable cotton to become the norm, both production and uptake need to increase significantly.

Overview of production and
uptake per standard

Sustainability standards and programmes aim to address challenges associated with conventional cotton production. They provide guidance for farmers on more sustainable farming practices and assure buyers that the product meets specified requirements. While membership of standards organisations is important, it is only the first step on the road to credible improvement. Following the Certification Assessment Tool (CAT) four sustainable cotton production standards are considered credible by PAN UK, Solidaridad and WWF:

market organic

Organic cotton

The volume of organic cotton lint produced in 2014/15 was 112,488 MT. Organic cotton was produced in 19 countries. Five of them represent 92% of the production: India (67%) China (12%), Turkey (6%), Kyrgyzstan (5%) and USA (2%). In 2014/15 193,840 farmers cultivated organic cotton on 350,033 hectares of land.

The uptake by brands and retailers is estimated highest for Organic cotton (70 - 80%), compared to other standards. This amounts to approximately 84,366 MT of cotton lint. However, many organic farmers still report that they end up selling the majority of their product as conventional cotton due to lack of demand.


market fairtrade

Fairtrade cotton

The production of Fairtrade cotton lint was around 16,640 MT in 2015/16. The cotton was produced by 32,430 farmers on 34,876 hectares in seven different countries. A large percentage of Fairtrade cotton is also certified organic – 73% in 2015.

Retail uptake was estimated to be 8,583 MT in 2016, approximately 51% of production, with the biggest volumes being sourced in France, the UK and Germany. Globally, over 200 brands source Fairtrade cotton.


market cmia

Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA)

In 2015/16, a total volume of 320,100 MT of CmiA cotton lint was produced in ten African countries. An estimated 50,000 MT (15%) of all CmiA cotton lint were actively procured by spinners, of which 30,000 MT (11%) were used in products of retailer or brands.

This includes CmiA cotton that was traded as Better Cotton. 31 European and North American companies sourced CmiA cotton in 2016.


market BCI

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

Better Cotton represents the largest share of more sustainable cotton. In the 2015/16 season, 2.5 million MTI of Better Cotton lint was produced in 23 countries on five continents, including cotton produced under benchmarked standards: 52,000 MT myBMP in Australia, 832,000 MT Algodão Brasileiro Responsável (ABR) in Brazil, and 320,100 MT CmiA. Better Cotton was produced by 1.5 million farmers on 3.5 million hectares of land.

Uptake of Better Cotton has increased steeply. In 2015, 251,000 MT of Better Cotton was actively sourced by brands and retailers. In 2016, this almost doubled to 461,000 MT sourced by 54 retailers. Share of uptake relative to production therefore increased from 13% to 18%. On spinner level 807,000 MT of cotton lint was sourced, amounting to 32% of the total volume produced.


Recycled cotton

Recycled cotton is another sustainable option. Cotton can be recycled from pre-consumer waste generated during the textile production process and from post-consumer waste comprising discarded textile products. Volumes of recycled cotton currently available and used remain limited.

Read our 2016 Market update, Mind the Gap.

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