Global Market Report: Cotton

This report examines how voluntary sustainability standards are performing in the cotton sector.

  • 100 million people work in cotton farming

  • Production of cotton compliant with VSSs grew 14% between 2009 to 2016

Key Messages

  • From 2009 to 2016, the production of cotton compliant with voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) grew to account for at least 14% of the sector.
  • Sustainable sourcing commitments are helping drive demand for VSS-compliant cotton.
  • 100 million people work in cotton farming, about 90% of which grow cotton on less than two hectares of land in developing countries.

Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in textiles, accounting for one third of total fibres manufactured worldwide. The sector faces a variety of sustainability issues, such as low farm prices, often due to unfavourable trade terms, excessive water consumption, pesticide use, and the use of forced labour. Cotton producers are increasingly using voluntary sustainability standards to address the sector’s sustainability challenges.

This report is the seventh in IISD’s Sustainable Commodities Marketplace Series, which presents market information and analysis on agricultural commodities to foster transparency, knowledge, and strategic decision making for sustainable development.

Report details

Standards and Value Chains
State of Sustainability Initiatives
Focus area
IISD, 2020