The “organic cotton” you’re spending a little more money on might not be organic. When companies put the words “organic cotton” on their products, it lures in consumers who want to make a change and are willing to splurge a little and pay for the same pair of sweatpants that are significantly more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.
When organic cotton is grown and sold organically, it is significantly better for the consumer and the environment. Organic cotton is grown from non-genetically modified seeds and without chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides.
The largest producer of the world’s organic cotton is in India and accounts for half of the organic cotton sold globally. According to Textile Exchange, a non-profit that sets standards and gives certifications to materials from sustainable sources said that despite the pandemic, organic cotton production in India grew 48 percent in the last year.
To be certified “organic,” the material used by brands needs to be certified and approved by external organizations. However, recently, the cotton credibility in India has gone out the window. The EU voted to no longer accept Indian organic exports certified by the main companies in charge of organic cotton.
According to the New York Times, Crispin Argento, the founder and managing director of Sourcery, who helps brand source organic cotton, said he believes most cotton branded as organic is not. When he asks suppliers for proof of authenticity, he says they do not want to answer, and Argento estimates that one-half to four-fifths of “organic cotton” exports from India are not genuine.
Many farmers in India have been persuaded to switch over to organic cotton but were unaware of the losses they would see. Farming cotton without pesticides and fossil fuel fertilizer produce 28 percent lower yields. They are making less money and suffering while these big companies are making big bucks and not passing it onto the farmers to compensate.
This has led farmers to grow cotton and sell it as organic to remain in business. In 2009, an investigation by India’s agricultural export agency found that many of the county’s organic cotton farms were lying and using genetically modified cotton and selling as organic. The government agreed to release digital tracking software the following year, but that has yet to happen.
Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture stopped recognizing organic products that were certified by companies that were overseen by Indian authorities. All companies now need to be accredited by the USDA’s National Organic Program standards to be able to sell. Experts point out that this problem is not just prevalent in India. China and Turkey are also massive exporters of organic cotton, and there have been questions about the legitimacy of their organic standards.
Most brands use the certified organic cotton mark as a way to make them seem eco-friendly and put on a facade as if they care. They increase prices, placing the burden on the consumer, not compensating the farmers, and when faced with these allegations of “organic cotton” fraud, they don’t seem to care.
However, one women’s clothing brand, Eileen Fisher, has made steps to move away from certified organic cotton. They have a web page dedicated to what they will be doing to do better.
“In order to ensure that our cotton is produced sustainably, we need to know where it’s grown and how the land is managed. We currently rely on organic certifications, but we know we need to go further. We’re working with our partners to build a transparent supply chain, one completely traceable, from the farm to you. So you can feel good knowing exactly where your cotton comes from.”
Other companies should take notes and take responsibility for the products they sell to consumers. When cotton is grown without chemicals and pesticides, it’s better for the soil, uses less water, is better for the environment, and is better for us! We need to be able to believe these certifications that are put on the products we consume, and we need to hold these companies accountable.
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