Cotton Impact Report – 2020

16 September 2021

Our Geographic Reach

Cotton is the world’s oldest commercial crop and one of the most important fiber crops in the global textile industry. It is grown in more than 100 countries on 2.5% of the world’s arable land making cotton one of the most significant crops in terms of land use after food grains and soybeans. There are 20 Fairtrade certified cotton producer organizations representing over 43,000 farmers located in nine countries around the world: Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Egypt, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Nicaragua, and Senegal.

43,000 farmers are represented by 20 Fairtrade cotton producer organizations across 9 countries

Our Collective Impact

The cotton industry faces several challenges to its long-term sustainability – from the intensive use of hazardous chemicals to climate change and low cotton prices. Fairtrade certification is unique in being the only scheme whose primary aim is to tackle poverty through better terms of trade as well as giving farmers greater power within their trading relationships. Fairtrade’s Textile Standards are also the first standard to require living wages to be paid to garment workers where brand owners are also contractually responsible for fair and long-term purchasing practices – essential for implementing wage increases. Our collective efforts support farmers with fairer, more stable prices and additional income to invest in infrastructure, training, farm equipment and business improvements as well as programs such as healthcare, clean water and education that contribute to flourishing communities.

Fairtrade Cotton Market Landscape in the US

Fairtrade cotton producer organizations represent over 43,000 farmers. In 2020 they sold over 1 million pounds of Fairtrade cotton, generating $1.7 million in Fairtrade Premium.

  • Sustainability-marketed products grew 7.1 times faster than products not marketed as sustainable according to NYU Stern Sustainable Market Share Index 2020
  • World cotton production is expected to rise 4.7%, with harvested area rising in some countries including India according to the USDA.
  • The environmental and social footprint of Fairtrade cotton is 5 times lower than conventional cotton. Between 70-75% of Fairtrade cotton farmers also hold organic certification.
118% increase in sales volume of Fairtrade cotton from 2019 to 2020

Snapshot: Fairtrade Sales Volume & Premium

The Fairtrade Cotton Standard was launched more than a decade ago to benefit the farmers at the end of a long and complex supply chain. Over this period, we have succeeded in raising awareness of the problems faced by cotton farmers, empowering and training producers to comply with the Fairtrade Standards and attracted more and more companies in the textile sector to source Fairtrade cotton. Thanks to our efforts, volumes sales of Fairtrade certified cotton is on the rise, increasing by 118% from 2019 to 2020.

The Fairtrade Premium is a key driver of impact for cooperatives, farmers and their communities and has been invested by cotton producers in diverse ways.

In 2020, 50% of Premium funds was spent on services for farmer members. The bulk of this was investments in agricultural tools and inputs and the implementation of best practices on their farms. This type of spending not only reduces farmer expenditure but also contributes to enhancing their capabilities. Cotton producers also spent 15% of the Fairtrade Premium they earned on services for their communities, notably community infrastructure.

Fairtrade cotton US Premium use by category

Fairtrade cotton US Premium use by Sustainable Development Goal


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are global goals designed by the United Nations General Assembly to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Fairtrade Premium investments made by cotton producers contribute to several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While most activities can apply to more than one SDG, here we have mapped each category of spending to a unique SDG for simplicity.

  • 66% percent of the Fairtrade Premium investments by cotton producers contributed to SDG2 (zero hunger). Primarily, these included activities that contributed to sustainable agriculture and the strengthening of producer organizations through the provision of agricultural tools and inputs, loans for farm improvement and implementing best practices. Investments like these also help reduce overall household expenditure for farming families.
  • 16% percent of Fairtrade Premium investments went community infrastructure and contribute to SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities). That goal aims to ensure cities are inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
  • SDG1 (no poverty) is central to Fairtrade’s mission to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives. Eleven percent of Fairtrade Premium spending in the cotton sector – primarily in the form of direct cash payments to members and other welfare payments – contributed to this goal.
$1.7M in Fairtrade Premium was generated in 2020 through sales of over 1M pounds of Fairtrade cotton

Producer Story: Putting People and the Planet First

Pratibha – Vasudha Jaivik Krishak Kalyan Samiti (VASUDHA) is a registered society of smallholder cotton farmers in district Khargone in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. VASUDHA comprises of 1524 individual members spread across 47 villages, of which 1,417 are men and 107 are women. Vasudha translates to “Mother Earth” and represents Pratibha’s deep commitment to helping people and the environment.

“We shifted our focus from being farm centric to community centric. Fairtrade aligned with this approach and the result was Vasudha was established in 2006 under Fairtrade certification and is today one of India’s largest Fairtrade organic cotton farmers’ networks.” – Avinash Karmarkar, Vice President of VASUDHA

Bhagirata Jat, 72, gives tuition to a teenager in his home in Maheshwar, Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, India. Bhagirata is a retired principal of the Fairtrade Premium-funded school Vasudha Vidya Vihar as well as a cotton farmer. Photo by Suzanne Lee

The Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money which goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use – as they see fit – to improve their social, economic, and environmental conditions. In 2009, the Vasudha Vidya Vihar school was built for the children of the farmers. Today, over 450 students attend the school, which offers education until the 12th grade. Farmers pay a nominal tuition fee and Fairtrade farmers get a 10% subsidy on the fee and an additional discount on sibling enrolment. Efforts are being made to enroll all the girls of the community in the local schools.

Additionally, VASUDHA provides its farmers quality seed material every year to maintain genetic and physical purity to avoid GMO contamination at the farm level. The cooperative has its own non-GMO seed production program and is working towards seed sustainability and sovereignty. VASUDHA also makes its own chemical-free fungicides, insecticides and nutritional supplements and sells them to farmers at cost. The cooperative also offers periodic training to its farmers. VASUDHA also installed drip irrigation for 125 farmers covering 125 acres, conserving 35-40% of water. Eighty percent of Fairtrade cotton farmers are using drip irrigation today. VASUDHA has promoted organic manure production and increased the organic carbon content in the soil to retain moisture for efficient water usage.

Navigating the Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 global pandemic caused the global cotton industry to grind to a halt, leaving cotton farmers vulnerable to falling market prices, without an economic or social safety net. In the second half of 2020, Fairtrade implemented an emergency relief project to support sustainable cotton cultivation during the pandemic. Our activities in 2020 to date have been guided by our mission to achieve a more equitable world where farmers and workers can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood through fair trade. We continually provide updates on our pandemic-related efforts here.


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