Organic textiles

Ensuring a more sustainable model for the environment, workers, and consumers.

Current textile production, processing and business model is highly unsustainable. Organic textiles are part of the solution as they help protect soils depleted by conventional production, limit harmful emissions during textiles creation and processing, protect fundamental rights of plant workers, and inform consumers about the impact of the garments they buy. In short, the principles of organic – ecology, health, fairness, and care – are at the heart of organically-produced textiles.

Antoine Pauti
Antoine Pauti
Policy Assistant for Agriculture, Environment and Food

Organic production and demand continue to boom year after year, as consumers become more sensitivity to more sustainable solutions. In 2018, the global market size of organic cotton crossed USD 37bn, yet organic cotton makes up only 1.1% of world’s cotton production.

Organic textiles are a low-hanging fruit for EU consumers, who are increasingly demanding transparency. Over 80% of EU citizens agree that not enough information is available on the clothes they buy, and stricter rules are necessary.

For the past 20 years, humanity has been producing more and more clothes, with a shorter and shorter life cycle. A considerable proportion of them become waste and are not recycled. Our planet cannot sustain this. The current conventional supply chain is a disaster for the environment, especially concerning soil health and GHG emissions ; forthe well-being and health of workers, exposed to chemicals and enduring poor working conditions ; and for consumers, that are threatened by the prevalence of green claims and misleading statements in the sector..

The numbers are concerning. Conventional cotton production uses around 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of the world’s insecticides. It also releases a considerable amount of manufactured nitrogen fertilisers into the environment – an approximate 83% of the total. It is also estimated that pesticides poisons 77 million textile workers every year.

Organic textiles ban hazardous pesticides, transgenic techniques, and fertilisers. They are produced with respect for the environment and through organic farming.

Worldwide, 21 countries are growing organic cotton, the three main ones are India, China, and Kyrgyzstan. According to the 2021 Organic Cotton Market Report, 249,153 tonnes of organic cotton were produced in 2020, a figure that is in constant growth – the production is expected to expand by 48% in 2021. As the market develops, organic cotton becomes a more attractive option for farmers.

Currently, organic textiles are not regulated at the EU level as agri-food products are. This discourages producers to create organic textiles, creates an opportunity for brands and retailers to make false claims on their products’ sustainable and organic nature, and also perpetuates an unsustainable model at all levels.

IFOAM Organics Europe advocates with policymakers to both recognise organic textiles as produced according to globally recognised organic regulations, and recognise this through an independent organic scheme, such as the EU Organic Regulation. Organic textiles should also be certified by an accredited and independent certification body.

IFOAM Organics Europe:

  • Advocates for an EU-legislation on organic textiles addressing the disparity of legal regimes between textiles and agri-food products and protecting the credibility of the EU organic label;
  • Recommends including the term ‘organic’ in the EU Textile Regulation (1007/2011), specifying the conditions for using the term in relation to textile products. On this, IFOAM – Organics International recommends that this label relates to the entire production and processing chain, as is the case for certified organic food and drink products;
  • Unites the most relevant actors in organic textiles to create a common position and defend these interests in an organic textiles taskforce;
  • Contributes to advocacy activities in the field of textiles, and related topics like consumer protection, a shift to more sustainable products and the fight against false claims.
Legal framework at the EU level relevant for organic textiles

Legislative background

In the European Union, Regulation (EU) 1007/2011 on fibre names and related labelling and marking of the fibre composition of textile product regulates the way textiles placed on the European market are designed and labelled. Its main provisions are the obligation to state, among others, the full fibre composition of a product, minimum technical requirements for applications for a new fibre name. This regulation covers all products containing at least 80% textile fibres, including raw, semi-worked, worked, semi-manufactured, semi-made, and made-up products. The EU Strategy for sustainable textiles foresees to reopen this regulation.

The Regulation (EU) 2018/848 on organic production and labelling of organic products establishing a new regulatory framework for organic production explicitly covers cotton and wool (art. 2).

Ongoinc processes

The Circular Economy Action Plan, that sprung from the 2019 European Green Deal, identified the textile sector as one to be made more circular. Several initiatives are resulting from this:

  • Sectorial policies,
  • The Sustainable Products Initiative,
  • The Substantiating Green Claims Initiative, and
  • The Empowering Consumers in the Green Transition Initiative.

IFOAM Organics Europe will contribute to the policymaking debate and respond to public consultations.

In March 2022, the European Commission published the EU Strategy for sustainable textiles. It aims at acting holistically on production, product design, consumption, traceability, transparency, and end of use. IFOAM Organics Europe would have liked to see mention of organic textiles, given their high degree of coherence with the strategy’s rationale and objectives. We are looking forward to the reopening of the Textile Labelling Regulation as foreseen by the strategy.

The Commission plans publishing the Sustainable Products Initiative for the first quarter of 2022. This initiative does not solely target textiles, but they are part of its scope. Moreover, it should tackle important issues, such as the presence of chemicals, thresholds on durability, reusability, repairability, recyclability, environmental and social requirements, responsibility of producers for providing more circular products. In March 2022, the European Commission already published a proposal for Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation as the larger part of the Sustainable Products Initiative.

The Empowering Consumers in the Green Transition initiative is also supposed to be presented during the first quarter of 2022. It will ensure that consumers get reliable and useful information on products, especially to prevent overstated environmental information (‘greenwashing’). It could also regulate the use of misleading words such as “eco, green, conscious.”

Finally, the Substantiating Green Claims initiative is expected in July 2022 and would tie into the legislative proposal on empowering consumers in the green transition. It will require companies to substantiate any sustainability and impact claim.

They are making it possible

The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). This page only reflects the views of the authors, and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. The CINEA is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.

The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). This page only reflects the views of the authors, and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. GOTS is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.

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