Market Update

The share of more sustainable cotton increased to 21% of the global production in the 2017/18 season (12% in 2015/16, which was reported in our 2017 report), with approximately 5.3 million metric tonnes of cotton lint.

The volume of more sustainable cotton actively sourced by brands and retailers increased slightly to approximately 25% of the available supply in 2018 (21% in 2016), still leaving 75% 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, 75% 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 the 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 WWF 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 2017/18 was 180,871 MT. Organic cotton was produced in 19 countries by 182,876 farmers on 356,131 hectares.1

No consolidated data on uptake of organic cotton by brands and retailers is available publicly.

It has been estimated to be between 70 and 80% of the available supply2 and some say the production is not enough to meet the demand for organic cotton.

However, many organic farmer groups 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 16,906 MT in 2017/18.3 The cotton was produced in eight different countries. 65% of all Fairtrade cotton was also certified to an organic standard.

In 2016, retail uptake was estimated to be 8,583 MT, approximately 51% of production, with the biggest volumes being sourced in France, the UK and Germany.

market cmia

Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA)

In 2018, a total volume of 580,000 MT of CmiA cotton lint was produced in ten African countries by 1 million smallholder farmers, on 1,780,000 hectares.

An estimated 133,100 MT of CmiA cotton (23% of production) were used in products of retailers or brands. 46 retailers and brands were part of CmiA’s Demand Alliance in 2018.4

market BCI

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

Better Cotton represents the largest share of more sustainable cotton. In the 2017/18 season, 5.1 million MT of Better Cotton lint was produced in 21 countries on five continents, including cotton produced under benchmarked standards: 231,000 MT myBMP in Australia, 1,542,000 MT Algodão Brasileiro Responsável (ABR) in Brazil, and 562,000 MT CmiA. Better Cotton was produced by 2 million farmers on 5.3 million hectares of land.5

Uptake of Better Cotton has continued to increase steeply. In 2018, 92 brands and retailers actively sourced 1,064,421 MT of Better Cotton, putting the share of uptake relative to production at 21%. That same year, spinners sourced 1,700,000 MT of Better Cotton, amounting to 33% of the total volume produced.6

Interestingly, in 2018 the BCI started actively and transparently communicating about the uptake of Better Cotton by their members, retailers and brands, spinners and more recently merchants. They also adopted a public target with regards to uptake of Better Cotton: by 2020 they aim for 10% of global cotton production to be sourced as Better Cotton. BCI is to date the only cotton sustainability standard exercising this level of transparency with regards to uptake. As a member of the ISEAL Alliance, BCI will also be participating in Evidensia, a new data platform on impacts.

5Better Cotton production data from BCI annual report 2018.
6Better Cotton uptake data from Better Cotton Leaderboard 2018.

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 : it is estimated that “less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing”7.

7Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation & Circular Fibres Initiative, A new Textiles Economy.

Read our in depth analysis of the gap between production and uptake, in our 2016 Mind the Gap report.

read the full report
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