Certified organic cotton Maintaining our leadership

Organic cotton has been at the heart of our sustainable materials strategy for more than 10 years. It is significantly better for the environment and the people who work with it. We are committed to buying and selling organic cotton and taking a stronger role in supporting the organic cotton sector, and have developed a leadership position in scaling our procurement of certified organic cotton. Since 2005, we have increased the number of certified organic cotton garments from 1 million to almost 157 million pieces through 2019.



Organic cotton also protects soil quality, biodiversity, and water supply, while preventing water pollution. And it’s safer for farmers and their communities’ health. From the grower to the garment maker, our organic cotton supply chain is certified to the Organic Content Standard (OCS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and never blended with conventional cotton. This means that any C&A product in the store labelled with our BIO COTTON seal is guaranteed and certified by OCS and GOTS that the supply chain of the cotton has been thoroughly monitored from source to the final product.

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Our 2019 performance

Our evolution in certified organic cotton

For 2019, our certified organic cotton share was 34%, a slight decrease from 2018. In lieu of increasing the share of organic cotton, we have focused primarily on traceability and our internal buying processes to ensure the high integrity of our organic cotton claims. Actions taken in 2019 include:

  • Improving internal systems to track Transaction Certificates and improve ease of reporting
  • Directly connecting with farm groups and farmers in Pakistan to secure fibre prior to production, which incentivises farmers to remain with organic cotton throughout the transition process
  • Piloting the Organic Cotton Accelerator's Farmer Engagement and Development programme (FED) to ensure payment of premiums to farmers
  • Investigating transitional cotton to define potential future sources
  • Participating in the world's first Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot (OCTP) with Fashion for Good, connecting blockchain technology with physical tracers

For  the ways in which our use for organic cotton helps to reduce our carbon and water footprints, view the Climate and Water chapters of this report.

Organic cotton - millions of pieces sold

Organic cotton as a % of total cotton sourced

0% 100% 50% 2017 2018 2019 % share of total cotton 40% Year 34% 38%

How we maintain integrity

Ensuring the certified organic cotton we buy is really organic

We do our utmost to secure the integrity of our organic cotton – going beyond certification and what’s required legally, with due diligence and third-party assessment. These additional checks include organic seed screening, seed linkage with organic farmers, training of farmers and ginners, supply chain mapping, and yarn spinner nomination. Going forward, we will be continuing our testing of organic cotton for genetically modified organism (GMO) contamination at the farm level (with the help of CottonConnect) through due diligence and third-party assessment.

Case Study

Supporting the extension of organic cotton farming in China

We continue our work with CottonConnect at Binzhou farm in China's Shandong Province to create scale for organic cotton in one of the only organic cotton projects currently underway in China.

newborn collection

It takes three years to transition cotton crops to fully organic. As part of this project, C&A China committed to buy cotton during these transition years, which are challenging and risky years for farmers as they move from conventional to organic crops. This commitment was made before the sowing season, providing farmers with market access, additional incentives, and financial security. In addition, C&A China offered to pay the farmers a premium to secure their income and compensate for any loss of yield during the transition process.


In 2017, C&A China bought the entire crop produced by all 105 farmers involved in the project: around 80 metric tons. The cotton was used to make 147,000 T-shirts and 60,000 pairs of jeans, the first of which reached stores in April 2018 around Earth Day. In-store communications helped customers identify the new products made with this transition cotton. During 2018, C&A China expanded the project to a total of 300 farmers, purchasing 90 metric tons of in-transition cotton to produce 144,000 T-shirts and 80,400 pairs of jeans. We also worked with farmers to improve their harvesting technology and prevent the accidental introduction of foreign fibres, which can affect quality and lead to wastage during spinning and cutting.

In 2019, Binzhou farmers produced 80 metric tons of cotton to make 100,000 pieces of clothing for sale by C&A China in 2020.

Collaborating to address market challenges

Less than 1% of cotton produced globally is organic, and the sector faces challenges such as a lack of availability and access to quality non-GMO seeds, few incentives for farmers to transition, limited access to the market, and lack of supply chain traceability and transparency. Despite a growing demand for organic cotton, farmers are moving out of production, and the whole sector is at risk if the industry is unable to address these issues effectively. So, we are continuing our work to strengthen the organic cotton sector, working with trusted partners to create a common vision for the sector. 

Since 2014, we have supported the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), which aims to create an organic cotton market that benefits everyone, from the farmer to the customer. C&A is a founding partner (and serves on the Board of Trustees) and Laudes Foundation is providing core financial support. With our fellow OCA affiliates – brands, retailers, non-profit organisations, and social enterprises – we’re working to find the best ways to strengthen the organic cotton sector and support healthy supply and demand. Plans include:

  • Making better seeds available.
  • Improving the business case for growing organic cotton.
  • Promoting best practices throughout the organic cotton supply chain.
  • Improving integrity and market transparency.

Successfully tracing organic cotton with innovative technologies

The pioneering Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot successfully combines on-product markers and blockchain technology to track organic cotton from farm to consumer – a first in the apparel industry. The multi-stakeholder projects was initiated by Fashion for Good in collaboration with C&A Foundation[1], and the Organic Cotton Accelerator, with support from C&A, Kering, PVH Corp., and Zalando, with Fashion for Good innovator Bext360 as the leading technical partner.

newborn collection

A collaborative effort from farm to consumer

Emerging technologies are beginning to offer brands the tools they need to efficiently and reliably verify materials, but until now these have not been successfully applied in the garment industry. The Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot was initiated in 2018 by Fashion for Good and the partner organisations to test and validate on-product markers in combination with blockchain technology as a traceability solution in real-world practice. Details of the pilot were announced earlier last year prior to in-field testing, which concluded this past summer.

The unique collaborative nature of the pilot project was key to its successful outcome. The partner organisations provided expertise to direct the pilot as well as financial support to fund project activities. C&A was instrumental to the project, leveraging our supply chain – Pratibha Syntex Limited, a vertically integrated manufacturing facility from farm to fashion in India supporting in-field trials, as well as our retail expertise – to fully explore production from fibre to garment available in stores across Europe.[2]

Exploring new practises with cutting-edge technology

The lead technical partner, Bext360 blockchain integrated the technologies of supporting technical partners Haelixa, Tailorlux, IN-Code Technologies, and Corebiome, whose DNA, invisible fluorescent, and microbiome [3] technologies, respectively, were applied in tracking the organic cotton. After enduring the harsh manufacturing processes of spinning, chemical treatments, high temperatures, and dyeing, the DNA and invisible fluorescent tracers emerged intact to positively identify the cotton in consumer-ready garments in retail outlets. E-Code NFC tags [4] provided by IN-Code Technologies enabled additional verification by way of unique digital data points collected through production. Deploying machine vision and artificial intelligence to automatically catalogue and grade the quality of the cotton, the Bext360 blockchain platform can then track each transaction through the entire value chain.

“The success of the Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot provides a positive impulse towards traceability and transparency in the value chain. We’ve gathered sufficient insights and evidence to support the case, in terms of technical as well as operational viability, for the wider implementation of the process in the organic cotton industry. In addition, the process shows enormous potential for further expansion to include other fibres in the fashion supply chain.” Katrin Ley, Managing Director of Fashion for Good.

Current traceability systems, though reliable, rely largely on paper-based trails of certification as well as various, separate systems to manage the chain of custody. The new process explored in the Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot creates a digital and physical trail that increases reliability of traceability by combining the immutability of blockchain with on-product markers that verify the identity of the fibre. This method comes closest to full traceability of the origin, purity, and distribution of the cotton within the current landscape. At the consumer level, the solution can be used to communicate which suppliers and manufacturers have worked together to create the final product.

Transparency in the value chain

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure for transparency along the fashion value chain from both consumers and governments. Simultaneously, greater awareness of the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry has catalysed intense interest and positive action towards more sustainable practices. Organic cotton promotes healthy soils, healthy ecosystems, healthy people, and thriving farming communities and is consequently a key fibre in the sustainability strategies of fashion brands worldwide. It offers a lower ecological impact – reducing exposure to insecticides, pesticides, and other chemicals, than conventional cotton production, which involves some of the highest use of pesticides and incurs a heavy water footprint. By having fully traceable organic cotton, the hope is to grow its use in the industry while increasing awareness of sustainable products.

Future potential and awareness

Since July 2020, the Fashion for Good Experience in Amsterdam – a consumer-facing museum focused on sustainable fashion and innovation – features an organic cotton T-shirt from the very supply chain in this pilot project. By scanning a QR Code, visitors can discover the journey of the cotton in the T-shirt. Besides the exhibition in the museum, the Experience will host events around transparency and traceability to educate consumers about their importance. Insights from the pilot will be shared to raise awareness of the significance of organic cotton as well as the benefits of a transparent supply chain.


[1] In January 2020, C&A Foundation became part of Laudes Foundation.

[2] In C&A stores in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.

[3] The extraction process using microbiome tracing was inconclusive in this pilot, having no current precedent for extracting biome material from seed or lint cotton. Test data from soil samples taken from participating farms provided promising insights into the future potential for this technology.

[4] Near Field Communication tags are tiny electronic chips which can store and transmit information using radio frequencies that can be read over short distances by a device or smartphone.

Supporting organic cotton famers

In 2019 to 2020, C&A Foundation[1] supported almost 50,000 farmers adopt organic cotton cultivation practices with support from partners such as Cotton Connect, Rare, and Action for Social Advancement (ASA), among others. In 2019 alone, the foundation provided over €7 million for social and environmental programmes in India, China, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Brazil.

In 2017, C&A Foundation[2] launched its first organic cotton initiative in Tanzania and in the harvesting year of 2018-2019, it supported 6,957 farmers adopt organic cotton practices.

Today, as Laudes, the foundation it continues to support various multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Organic Cotton Accelerator, Cotton 2040, and Organic and Fairtrade Cotton Secretariat, to create an enabling environment for sustainable cotton in addition to improving farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. Higher farmer incomes not only benefit farming communities, but also pave the way for greater scalability in organic cotton.

[1] In January 2020, C&A Foundation became part of Laudes Foundation.

[2] In January 2020, C&A Foundation became part of Laudes Foundation.


Where next?

Bolstering the organic cotton industry

Industry initiatives must align on global standards to provide the vision and drive needed for the organic cotton industry to thrive. It is only through collective action that we will be able to capitalise on the growing enthusiasm for organic cotton – and ensure that together we can take the sector to a position of greater strength.

Advancing transitional cotton

In 2020, we will continue to evaluate new transitional organic cotton projects to develop stronger relationships at the farm, farm group, and ginning level. Direct engagement will allow us to increase our commitments and ensure that farmer premiums are paid.

Further evaluating traceability approaches

Building upon our work with Fashion for Good to conduct the world's first Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot, we plan to take the learnings from the study to understand how to scale blockchain and physical tracers in our supply chain.

Connecting with customers

Since early 2018 when we launched our first global customer-facing sustainability communications platform, #WearTheChange, we have communicated with customers in stores, online, and through special events about our more sustainable products and their environmental benefits. We plan to continue communicating our more sustainable cotton products to customers throughout 2020 under the #WearTheChange umbrella platform.

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