Preferred Cotton

Published 2019Back to Fiber Resources Home



Cotton has historically been the largest percentage of textile production in the world, only recently being outpaced by polyester. When cotton is grown without regard to soil health, water use, toxicity, or other impacts, it can result in devastating, long-term damage to ecologies and livelihoods of the workers and farmers.

Preferred Cotton (pCotton) is cotton that is ecologically and/or socially progressive because it has more sustainable properties in comparison to other conventional options. Cottons currently defined by Textile Exchange as preferred include: Organic Fair Trade, Organic, Fair Trade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its equivalencies, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), the REEL Cotton Program (REEL) and recycled cotton. For more information go to the Sustainable Cotton Matrix.

Organic-Fair Trade Cotton
 is cotton that is certified to both Fair Trade and organic standards. Fair Trade standards ensure farmers are paid a minimum price and require farmers to organize into democratic producer organizations. Organic farm standards ensure that the cotton is grown within a rotation system that builds soil fertility, protects biodiversity, and is grown without the use of any synthetic fertilizers, hazardous pesticides or GMOs.

View on Cotton Matrix Fairtrade International Fair Trade USA

Organic Cotton
 is grown within a rotation system that builds soil fertility, protects biodiversity, and is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, toxic pesticides or GMOs. The Organic Content Standard (OCS) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) provide third party assurance on organic product claims. In addition, GOTS includes environmental and social responsibility in processing.

View OCS on Cotton Matrix Organic Content Standard
View GOTS on Cotton Matrix Global Organic Textile Standard

Fair Trade 
is a global movement to support small-scale, marginalized farmers and workers. Fair Trade standards require farmers to organize into democratic producer organizations and to have environmentally sound agricultural practices. In return, they are guaranteed the Fairtrade Minimum Price (FMP) and a Fairtrade Premium that goes towards community development. GMOs are banned in the Fair Trade standard.

View on Cotton Matrix Fairtrade International Fair Trade USA

Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) 
is an initiative of the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) that helps smallholder cotton farmers in Africa improve their living conditions. Growers must meet minimum environmental and social requirements for their cotton to qualify as CmiA. GMOs are banned in the CmiA standard.

View on Cotton Matrix Cotton made in Africa

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) sets out to improve the sustainability of mainstream cotton production. Growers must meet minimum environmental and social requirements for their cotton to qualify as Better Cotton. Continuous improvement is a key element of the BCI Assurance Program.

View on Cotton Matrix Better Cotton Initiative

The REEL Cotton Program is CottonConnect’s three-year agricultural program providing farmers with training on sustainable cotton farming practices. The REEL Code is used to verify that farmers in the REEL Cotton Program are using more sustainable practices, with additional program elements that ensure traceability and decent work.

View on Cotton Matrix REEL Cotton Program

Bayer e3
 is an initiative standard aimed at creating a more sustainable American landscape. Farmers sign up to commit to grow cotton more efficiently and without harming the environment using superior seeds that produces quality fiber.

View on Cotton Matrix Bayer e3

Recycled Cotton has been re-processed from reclaimed cotton. The Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) and the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) are chain of custody standards to track the use of recycled content through the supply chain. The GRS, in addition, includes social and environmental requirements that must be met during the processing stages.

Access to good quality, non-GMO seed is necessary to meet the needs of the organic agricultural standard while delivering on fiber quality and meeting industry specifications. Productivity in organic is dependent upon healthy, fertile soil as well as good quality seed. Avoiding and addressing contamination from GMO seed is also key to the success of organic cotton.
Success for all depends upon re-imagining and re-engineering supply chains to improve business security for growers and for organic to scale up. Incubating new ways of working, driving best practices, and ensuring product integrity is integral to improved business models and the resilience of the sector.
The consumer is part of the organic cotton value chain. Educating and driving consumer demand are vital parts of the business models. Brands and retailers of organic cotton need to see a return on investment. They invest significantly in product placement and talk directly to their customer, so consumer engagement is critical.
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First steps to using Organic Cotton:

You can find a certified organic cotton supplier or manufacturer by accessing the OCS or GOTS database. 

Find an OCS Supplier Find a GOTS Supplier

2019 Leaderboard

The Cotton Index is a holistic consideration of both management and uptake of preferred cotton. The companies listed here achieved a Level 4 Leading position in the 2019 MCI Cotton Index and/or progress in uptake of preferred cotton. Learn more at

Table notes:
1. Cotton Index: The Cotton Index is part of the Material Change Index family of indices and is derived from the CFMB survey responses to the Cotton Module.
2. Level 4 Leading: Companies that are pioneering industry transformation and scored 76-100 out of 100 possible points in the Cotton Index.
3. Preferred Cotton Portfolio: includes BASF e3, Better Cotton Initiative, bioRe, Cotton made in Africa, Fair Trade, Organic, Organic Fair Trade, and recycled.
4. Portfolio Progress: Companies that are at 50% or more preferred cotton (including companies at 100%).
5. Top 10 by Volume: Companies reporting the highest volumes of preferred cotton uptake.


Learn about the impacts on the ground:

The Organic Cotton-Sustainability Assessment Tool (OC-SAT) is an online tool that explores the environmental, social and economic impacts of organic agriculture.

Organic Cotton – Sustainability Assessment Tool



The Organic Cotton Round Table (OCRT) is a global stakeholder platform that supports and brings together the organic cotton community to be inspired, mobilized, and equipped to act. 

The OCRT has on-going Task Forces for Business Models, Seed & Soils, and Consumer Engagement, as well as an Innovation Lab that seeks out and celebrates new ideas in organic cotton. Click here to learn more.

Every year since its inception in Hong Kong 2012, the OCRT has held an in person meeting alongside the annual Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference. In 2017, Textile Exchange launched the first official Regional OCRT in Izmir, Turkey. The 2021 Global OCRT will be held during Textile Exchange's annual Textile Sustainability Conference, this year being held in Dublin, November 15-19.


If you are interested in joining this Round Table, please send an email to:

Regional OCRT China, 14 March
Global OCRT Vancouver, 15-18 Oct


Regional OCRT Izmir, 10-11 May
Regional OCRT Burkina Faso, 27-29 Sept
Global OCRT Milan, 22-24 Oct

Global OCRT 2017, Washington D.C.
Regional OCRT 2017, Izmir
Global OCRT 2016, Hamburg
Global OCRT 2015, Mumbai
Global OCRT 2014, Portland
Global OCRT 2013, Istanbul
Global OCRT 2012, Hong Kong