“Certified organic products cater for higher income options for farmers, and therefore, can serve as promoters for climate-friendly farming practices worldwide.”
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO)
Organic certification is necessary to protect the integrity of the organic production process. Certification is mutually beneficial for everyone involved in an organic cotton supply chain to ensure integrity in their processing and labelling.
There are a number of government standards that define production and certification requirements for organic farming production. These include:
- European Union – Council Directive on Organic Farming
- USA – USDA National Organic Program
- Canada – Canada Organic Regime
- Australia – Australian Certified Organic
- India – India Organic – National Programme for Organic Production
- Japan Agricultural Standard
A full list can be found on the International Organic Inspectors Association website.
If cotton is to be sold as organic, the producer must be certified to one or more of these regulations. This is done by an accredited, independent, third-party certifier reviewing the farm and its operations to ensure that it meets the requirements for the particular standard as well as the additional standards for dual or multi-certification. A standard lays out a set of conditions for the farming and/or processing of a product. A certifying agency confirms that the conditions of the standard have been met and is accredited by the body that created the standard.
Typically for most standards, in order to obtain organic certification the following steps need to be taken;
- Develop a farm plan for ecosystem management fulfilling the requirements of organic standards and develop an internal control system
- Submit application to an accredited independent third party certifier
- Pass annual inspections
Depending on the standard, a transition period of 2-3 years is required to convert from conventional to organic production.
Beyond the Farm Gate: Tracking the Organic Fibre
At the farm-gate level, after the farm passes inspection by a third party accredited certifier, an organic certificate is given. After this the fibre moves from the farm to the gin, spinner, fabric mill and product manufacturer. How can you ensure that the organic fibre ended up in the final product?
To make an organic content claim on the final product these steps must be certified to ensure the use of fibre from an organic farm. Through the processing transaction certificates are issued from an independent 3rd party certification body.
If the product will be labelled with an “organic” claim that includes processing, scope certificates will need to be collected from each party along the chain to ensure they meet the standard’s requirements. These ensure that the facility has been certified to produce goods that satisfy specific environmental and social criteria.
In the European Union, North America and Japan no government standards have been developed to certify the processing of organic fibres beyond the farm gate but there are a number of voluntary third party standards covering manufacture and processing of products.
The Organic Content Standard (OCS) relies on third-party verification to verify a final product contains the accurate amount of a given organically grown material. It does not address the use of chemicals or any social or environmental aspects of production beyond the integrity of the organic material. The OCS uses the chain of custody requirements of the Content Claim Standard (CCS), and additional guidance can be found in the CCS Implementation Manual.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) covers the use and processing of organic fiber, as well as social, environmental and quality criteria. GOTS is a voluntary processing standard developed to work towards bringing global uniformity to sustainable textile processing.
In addition to the OCS and GOTS standards, some companies also choose to adopt other standards that focus on other aspects of product sources and production. Examples of these include Labour Standards such as SA8000, WRAP and the Fairtrade Standards (see Making Informed Choices - Fair Trade). There are also other environmental standards such as ISO 14001 or Bluesign.