Certified organic cotton A cornerstone business objective

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 more than 170 million pieces.


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. So, whenever you find a product labelled with our BIO COTTON seal in one of our stores, OCS and GOTS guarantee that the supply chain of the cotton is thoroughly checked and monitored right from source to the final product.

Our 2017 performance

Increasing our sales of certified organic cotton

In 2017, 40% of the cotton we used was certified organic. By offering organic cotton garments and communicating the benefits to our customers, we can continue to help drive demand for for it. It is important to note that we began to consolidate global organic cotton volumes for all retail markets in 2015. Prior to 2015, only Europe's certified organic volumes were reported.

Historic organic cotton sales (millions of pieces)

Organic cotton as a % share of total cotton sourced

Reducing our impact

In 2017, the Textile Exchange estimated that through the purchase of organic cotton in 2016, C&A saved 136.8 billion litres of water, avoided the use of 126 tons of hazardous pesticide and improved the quality of over 140,000 hectares of soil.

Continuing our work to strengthen the sector

We have continued our partnerships with industry bodies such as C&A Foundation and the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) throughout 2017, to help bolster and secure the organic cotton sector.

Case Study

Expanding organic cotton farming in China

Supporting the growth of organic cotton worldwide is a key commitment of both C&A and C&A Foundation. In 2017, both organisations worked closely with CottonConnect to launch an organic cotton pilot at Binzhou farm, Shandong, China.

newborn collection

As part of this project, C&A China committed to buy cotton in the first transition year to organic, which is one of the most challenging and risky years for the farmers moving from conventional crops. This commitment was made before the sowing season, giving market access and additional incentives and security to the farmers. In addition, C&A China offered to pay the farmers a premium to secure their income and compensate for any loss of yield.

C&A China bought the entire crop of all 105 farmers involved in the project: around 80 tons. The cotton will be used to make 145,000 T-shirts and 60,000 pairs of jeans, the first of which reached stores in April 2018.

During 2018, C&A China plans to expand the project to a total of 300 farmers.

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 we are 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 C&A Foundation has provided core financial support for the first four years. With our fellow OCA members – 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.

Behind the scenes with OCA: Higher income, better health, happier families

“Our communities tend to heavily use pesticides for agriculture. A neighbouring village with roughly 800 families has 16 families with cancer patients. I feel blessed to have switched to organic farming. My family’s health is much better, we are eating more nutritional food and all of my children are in school or college.”

Baliram, farmer in Modhapura (a small village in the Kheda District of Gujarat, India)

For years, it has been difficult for cotton farmers to justify the costs associated with transitioning from conventional cotton farming to organic methods. The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) was started in 2014 to address exactly these barriers – not by increasing demand for organic cotton, but by working with farmers to making it a more rewarding enterprise.

In 2017, C&A piloted a program in collaboration with C&A Foundation to support 300 organic cotton farmers in India by committing to procure their crop at the time of sowing. This meant less risk, better income, more security and more trust for the farmers at the beginning of the season.

C&A worked with the Vasudha Farms Initiative, an on-the-ground intermediary that works with 35,000 cotton farmers in India on transitioning to organic or the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) methods.

“We started with the premise that every participating farmer would get a 10% premium for their cotton price by transitioning to organic. But we quickly realised that that was not the right incentive for the farmers, given that only 25% of their annual revenue comes from cotton. So we quickly switched approaches – we offered them the seeds upfront at no cost on the condition that they would invest in multi-cropping techniques,” says Avinash Karmarkar, VP for Vasudha Farms Initiative.

“When you switch to multi-cropping, you’re making your farm more sustainable and resilient to climate change. You’re earning year-round. You’re using biopesticides so the environment is cleaner, which leads to fewer health problems. And, for the first time, you’re also producing essential nutritious food for your families instead of buying all of it from the market,” explains Avinash.

A year later, the hard work has paid off.

While organic cotton has brought revenue, the vegetables and spices have brought supplemental income and nutritional security. “My wife quipped that she’s having to cook different dishes every day for the first time because of all the crop we harvested last year. We have made do on simple lentils and wheat rotis for most of our lives. This time, we ate vegetables and proteins for almost two months,” says Sardar Methu, one of the participating farmers.

As a result of this project, his income has increased substantially. Moving forward, he aims to expand multi-cropping, including organic cotton, to all three acres of his land. For Baliram, partnering with OCA, C&A Foundation and Vasudha – and by association, C&A – has brought better health for his family and a more sustained income. “My daughters go to college and are aware of the benefits of organic farming. They are proud of my work today and that brings me endless joy,” he says.

For Avinash, the key ingredient of the pilot’s success was the ability to make it completely farmer-centric. “We were able to really understand their challenges and struggles. OCA helped us be holistic in our approach and that has yielded results. Next year, we also plan to address the issue of incredibly abusive moneylending practices by introducing microlending, so they don’t end up stuck in an endless cycle of debt,” he says.


Our partnership with C&A Foundation to help organic cotton farmers

In addition to funding the OCA, C&A Foundation is supporting farmers in the organic sector through partners like CottonConnect, Rare, Action for Social Advancement (ASA), WWF, the Aga Khan Foundation, GIZ, Solidaridad and Esplar. In 2017, C&A Foundation provided over €6.2 million to social and environmental programmes in India, China, and Pakistan. Every initiative is designed to improve farmers’ incomes and livelihoods, and contribute to the environment and local communities. In 2017-2018, C&A Foundation helped 38,512 farmers adopt organic cotton cultivation practices.

One of the key leadership moves on our more sustainable cotton journey was to form CottonConnect. CottonConnect was created by C&A, the Shell Foundation and Textile Exchange in 2009 to help smallholder farmers move from conventional, high-impact farming to more sustainable methods. Designed to link farmers with the international cotton market, CottonConnect helps encourage retailers to source more sustainable cotton from smallholder farmers. Because of our shared vision to bring more sustainable cotton to market, CottonConnect has helped 18,063 cotton farmers convert to organic cultivation practices since its launch.

Read more about CottonConnect

Read about C&A Foundation’s Sustainable Cotton programme


Where next?

Bolstering the industry

Industry initiatives must align on global standards to provide the vision and drive needed for the industry to thrive. We support OCA’s Call for Collective Action to accelerate the development and realisation of a unified sector vision and agenda. 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 from strength to strength.

Ensuring the certified organic cotton we buy is really organic

We do everything we can to secure the integrity of our organic cotton – going beyond certification and what’s required legally, with strict due diligence and third-party assessment. These additional checks include supply chain mapping, spinner nomination, farmer and supply chain training and genetically modified organism (GMO) testing. We are also continuing our testing of organic cotton for contamination at the farm (with the help of CottonConnect), at spinner level and in the end product.

Reaching out to customers: Certified organic cotton range in Europe

We made significant strides in 2017 to bring our BIO COTTON products closer to our customers and more visible in our stores and beyond. In Summer 2017, we launched a new BIO COTTON campaign across all our European stores. The campaign ran in-store, online and via social media, connecting C&A with our customers as the world’s largest retailer of organic cotton. All our BIO COTTON products now carry a product hangtag to ensure easier identification by customers.

In line with this campaign, we also participated in KidiX, a family fair in Belgium inviting kids of all ages to learn about organic cotton and communicating with parents on our responsible sourcing efforts.

In February 2018, we launched our first global customer-facing sustainability campaign #WearTheChange, an umbrella campaign that covers all our more sustainable products and communicates their environmental product benefits in-store and online. BIO COTTON is the sustainability attribute most broadly represented in #WearTheChange.