Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in the textile industry, accounting for one third of fibres manufactured worldwide. Up to 1 billion people depend on the cotton industry for their livelihoods, including 250 million people working in cotton processing and 100 million small farmers cultivating cotton.
The global reach of cotton is wide, but cotton production is struggling with ongoing challenges affecting the ecosystems and communities surrounding cotton farms: soil erosion, yield disparities between countries, poverty among farmers, and child (and forced) labour are some of them.
Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) became more popular in the cotton sector in 2014 addressing a range of environmental, social, and economic concerns such as pesticide use, water conservation, genetically modified seed dependence, forced and child labour, gender equity, and poverty alleviation. In recent years, VSSs have been working to stimulate collaborative actions across the textile supply chain to turn the cotton sector around.
To deal with price instabilities and market uncertainties brought on by the financialization of cotton, stockpiling, national regulations, and climate change, the cotton sector must become more sustainable. Certainly, VSSs will continue to have an important role in ensuring that cotton fibre remains competitive while moving its production and consumption toward sustainability.
Up to 1 billion people earn a living from the cotton sector, including 250 million people in processing and 100 million farmers globally.
About 90% of farmers grow cotton on less than two hectares of land in developing countries.
From 2009 to 2016, VSS-compliant cotton production saw a 48% compound annual interest growth rate.
USD 7.5 billion
In 2016, at least 3.2 million tonnes of VSS-compliant cotton was produced, valued
at USD 7.5 billion.
VSS-compliant cotton accounted for at least 14% of total production in 2016.
In 2016, at least 14% of the market was made up of VSS-compliant cotton, and another 0.8% of total production was potentially VSS-compliant. Conventional cotton made up the remaining 85.2% of the market.
Consumer preferences in Europe and North America are driving demand.
Leading brands are committing to source VSS-compliant cotton to meet growing consumer preferences for more sustainable products, as well as lower their supply and potential reputational risks.
VSS-compliant cotton production volumes in 2016
The VSS-compliant cotton sector experienced a compound annual growth rate of approximately 48% from 2009 to 2016, accounting for at least 14% of global production. By production volume, Better Cotton Initiative is the largest VSS body in the sector, followed by Cotton made in Africa, Organic and Fairtrade International.
Distribution of cotton production in the top 15 producing countries in 2016
For a high-resolution version of the map visit https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/ssi-global-market-map-cotton.pdf.