What is Fairtrade Cotton? And Why Should We Choose It?

What is Fairtrade Cotton? And Why Should We Choose It?

We at Sleep Organic are passionate about Fairtrade cotton and from 22nd February to 7th March, we celebrate Fairtrade fortnight. This is a time when we all come together to celebrate the great strides we are making towards a fairer, more sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical world – and raise awareness for those around the world who are still exploited and underpaid.

Sleep Organic is committed to the Fairtrade cotton cause. Our entire organic cotton bedding range is 100% Fairtrade. All our organic cotton bedding is grown, harvested, processed and packed under strict international Fairtrade standards. Sleep Organic is a registered Fairtrade brand, which means we pay 1.7% of product cost to Fairtrade on all our sales. We are committed to zero exploitation of people and planet, and are dedicated to the concept of fair trade. And we want to convince you to commit to it too!


What is Fairtrade?

Fairtrade is a global movement that seeks to improve conditions and local sustainability for farmers and workers – especially those in the developing world. Fairtrade seeks to ensure that farmers and workers are all safe, have good working conditions and are treated fairly.

The global trade network is fraught with injustice. It traditionally discriminates against those with less financial or political clout. So those who have wealth continue to accumulate it, and those who have the least suffer the most.

Fairtrade helps to combat such injustices by requiring businesses to pay sustainable prices (never below market value) for the products produced by those in their supply chains. Since farmers and producers in developing nations get fairer prices, they are able to take back some power. They can make their own choices, control their own futures, and live the dignified, safe, secure lives that everyone deserves.

By committing to Fairtrade farming, ethics and procurement, businesses can help to improve social and economic well-being of workers across the entire production chain. Consumers know, when they see this label that working conditions and workers’ rights have been taken into account.


What are the Fairtrade Standards?

There are a series of Fairtrade standards that have been developed. There are core standards that need to be met in order to be certified Fairtrade.

These standards:

  • Ensure that producers receive prices that cover their average costs of sustainable production.
  • Provide an additional Fairtrade premium, which they can invest in projects to enhance social, economic and environmental development in their areas.
  • Allow producers to access pre-financing where this is required.
  • Set clear core criteria and developmental goals to ensure that all Fairtrade certified products are socially and economically fair as well as environmentally responsible.


By choosing Fairtrade products, you are making a statement as a consumer with positive consequences. You are saying that you are looking out for those who are often disadvantaged by the system. You are showing that you care about people, no matter where they live, and value all human life. And you are helping our world to become a more just and equal place.


Fairtrade cotton

Why Cotton Needs To Be a Fairtrade Priority

Cotton is one of the most important textile fibre crops, and a hugely important agricultural product. Its production takes up over 2% of all arable land on the planet (1), and millions of people rely on it for their livelihoods. But the way things stand, many injustices and inequalities mean that workers, and the environment, often suffer to make the clothing, bedding and other textiles we need.

The cotton industry is dominated by China, India and the United States. Large scale cotton cultivation in these countries nets them huge amounts of money each year. And the global cotton trade is heavily distorted by subsidies given to cotton farmers particularly in rich countries like the US and EU.

But cotton also forms a large part of the annual export income for a number of other low-income nations in Central and West Asia and in Africa. In developing nations – leading producers like China and India as well as these other low-income regions – cotton farmers often have it tough.

Cotton generates vast wealth on a global scale, in spite of volatile cotton prices (2). But those involved in working on the front lines in cotton production often do not see that return. They have low income, low investment, and high dependency. And they can also experience other issues due to the agricultural practices with which they are involved.

One major issue is the large amount of water required to grow conventional (i.e. non-sustainably grown) cotton (3).  This increases water stresses on farmers and their communities. In some regions, polluted waste water is also a major concern – damaging and degrading environments upon which people in vulnerable nations depend.

Non-organic cotton production also involves high use of pesticides and insecticides. 6% of global pesticide use and 16% of global insecticide use take place in cotton production (4). The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 350,000 people die every year from acute pesticide poisoning. This figure does not include deaths from cancer or other chronic diseases caused by pesticide exposure. In addition, the WHO estimates that long-term exposure may result in upwards of 750,000 people suffering from specific chronic defects and cancers each year – in developing countries alone.

In addition to wealth and environmental related concerns, the cotton industry is also implicated in social injustices – such as child and forced labour. These are well documented in nine cotton producing regions. Clamp downs on child labour in particular have improved the picture somewhat in recent years. But concerns still remain, especially in regions like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (5).

The cotton industry is also implicated in gender inequalities, which have a range of knock on consequences in broader societal systems.


Why and How Fairtrade Cotton Helps

Fairtrade cotton empowers farmers in developing countries

Fairtrade helps cotton producers, who would otherwise languish at the end of long and complex supply chains, through introducing such mechanisms as the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium that make sure they are treated fairly, and can achieve higher, more stable and sustainable incomes. In addition, when a Fairtrade product is also certified organic by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), then a higher Fairtrade minimum price is secured for the farmer. Fairtrade Standards have also helped strengthen cotton farmer co-operatives – a much needed development to protect farmers and women’s rights by giving them stronger, more collective bargaining power.


Fairtrade cotton helps the environment too

Fairtrade Standards stipulate strict environmental and sustainability criteria, not only more just social and trade conditions. For example, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are prohibited as well as a host of toxic chemicals, while the use of non-chemical pesticides and biological pest controls and natural organic fertilizers are encouraged and best practices shared (6).


Fairtrade cotton promotes gender equality

Fairtrade Standards specifically addresses issues of gender equality in developing countries, from voting rights to pay equity. A study reported how a requirement in the Fairtrade Standards for women farmers to be paid directly for seed cotton (rather than through their husbands or other male family members) had encouraged more women in certain developing countries to cultivate cotton (7). Crucially, the women reported that they had more control over their household budget and spending.


Fairtrade cotton – a global impact

Fairtrade also helps businesses to source Fairtrade Cotton and educates consumers on the problems in cotton production and how things can be improved. Fairtrade works with 19 producer organisations growing Fairtrade cotton in seven countries (8). This represents tangible improvements for almost 45,576 cotton farmers in some of the poorest regions in the world.


Choose Fairtrade Cotton

By choosing Fairtrade cotton such as sustainable and ethical Fairtrade and organic cotton bedding, grown and manufactured through Fairtrade Standards, businesses and consumers can make a real and tangible difference to some of the most vulnerable (often women) workers and communities around the world. 

Dr Chris Murphy, co-founder Sleep Organic


1. Textile Exchange, 2025 Sustainable Cotton Challenge: First Annual Report (2018), p.13.

2. World Bank, World Bank Commodities Price Forecast: April 2019, http://pubdocs.worldbank. org/en/598821555973008624/CMO-April-2019-Forecasts.pdf

3. Cotton Up Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Cotton, Challenges for Cotton, http://cottonupguide. org/why-source-sustainable-cotton/challenges-for-cotton/#1518784631421-5825380e-f0f8

4. PAN UK, Pesticide Concerns in Cotton, https://www.pan-uk.org/cotton/

5. Responsible Sourcing Network, Cotton, https://www.sourcingnetwork.org/cotton

6. https://www.fairtrade.net/library/fairtrade-and-cotton-2015


8. Fairtrade International, Key Data: Fairtrade Cotton, https://www.fairtrade.net/impact/key- data-fairtrade-cotton 

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