Cotton production uses 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of insecticides. Organic cotton is grown without the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and is guaranteed to be GM-free. Organic cotton is generally estimated to have about half the emissions of conventionally grown cotton, although it uses more land. Organic cotton also has to meet criteria for other chemicals used in its processing, such as dyes, in addition to social criteria, e.g. pay and working conditions. Seeking certified organic cotton therefore offers some assurance that it has not come from a supply chain directly linked to forced labour.
When buying clothes, look out for the Soil Association and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label.
Many brands claim to source ‘sustainably’ via the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). BCI excludes Uzbek and Turkmen cotton.
However, in May 2021, civil society organisations condemned the BCI for deleting all public statements and references to its decision to exit the Uyghur Region, taken one year earlier. The BCI’s U-turn appears to follow a backlash in China. “BCI is allowing itself to be used by the Chinese government to claim that business can go on as usual and to deny the ongoing crimes against humanity, including widespread and systematic forced labour, in the Uyghur Region,” the EUFL Coalition said.
A 2018 Report by Changing Markets Foundation, called ‘The false promise of certification’, also criticised BCI as one of the least ambitious certification schemes, particularly with regards to the environment – allowing pesticides and use of GM.
Like many mainstream certification schemes, it is better than nothing, but still has a long way to go.