Organic Cotton Certifications - Which Is Best?

Organic Cotton Certifications - Which Is Best?

Sustainable Fashion Roundup - October Reading Organic Cotton Certifications - Which Is Best? 6 minutes Next Show Your Stripes - a guide & FAQs

There are heaps of sustainability certifications out there - enough to make us dizzy. And the debate about most of them doesn’t help. It’s no different when it comes to a complex topic like cotton, which has been used to create clothing for 7,000 years and is the world’s most popular natural fabric. People have a lot to say about cotton - and rightfully so. We should be mindful of which type of cotton is being used in the clothing we buy.

Why’s that? Well, conventional cotton has been named the dirtiest crop on Earth. When cotton is not produced organically, it uses toxic chemicals like pesticides, harming biodiversity and leading to claims there are health concerns for humans, too. Not to mention that traditional farming typically involves exploitation of workers. The production of cotton for the fast fashion industry is also connected to high greenhouse gas emissions and vast amounts of water pollution.

Organic cotton is far better in all of these areas but not all certifications are trustworthy. Let’s look at some of the certifications that tend to come up when we think about organic cotton.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)


GOTS is considered the leading global standard for organic cotton. With this certification, you can be sure that traceability goes from start-to-finish. Before anything else, proof of a non-GMO seed needs to be documented. The cotton is then monitored all the way to the end product, such as a t-shirt. This thoroughness from start-to-finish is more complete than other organic certifications, and one of the reasons why GOTS is at the top. For example, OEKO-TEX and BCI allow the use of GMO seeds.

The best part about the GOTS certification? Not only are there strict restrictions on organic farming but also on environmental and human safety levels. Environmental regulations must be adhered to, such as wastewater treatment and even the mandatory use of post-consumer recycled paper for clothing tags. And when it comes to human safety, there are strict requirements - this is vital as organic cotton can otherwise be linked to forced labour.

  • GOTS label ‘made with organic’ requires least 70% organic fibres
  • GOTS label ‘organic’ requires at least 95% organic fibres
  • Genetically modified seeds are prohibited
  • Wastewater treatment and chemicals are strictly monitored
  • Child labour is prohibited and workers must be treated well

Not only that, the GOTS certification also has controls on quality - meaning a cotton garment that’s made from that cotton will last longer. Which is also an important aspect of sustainability. After all, it defeats the purpose if you’re just going to chuck an organic cotton garment away after a few months because the quality of the cotton is low.

Organic Content Standard (OCS)

Organic Content Standard Certification Logos

OCS certifies organic cotton and has a similar certification system as GOTS. But it overlooks the social aspects that are necessary for healthy working conditions as well as the environmental aspects such as the use of chemicals. It certifies the organic fibre content in a product, with high traceability from start-to-finish. There is focus on the integrity of the organic material but less so the other aspects.

  • ‘OCS 100’ requires at least 95% organic fibres
  • ‘OCS Blended’ requires at least 5% organic fibres up until 95%
  • Verifies the entire supply chain, ensuring claims are accurate
  • Only material from certified organic farms (under IFOAM’s standards) are used

All considered, it’s a good certification but not quite as thorough as GOTS.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic

USDA organic certification logo

The USDA Organic certification is another well-known label from the US. It’s a certification used on a wide range of organic products. When it comes to textiles, the USDA states that the product can only be labelled USDA Organic when the finished product is produced in compliance with the third-party National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. The percentage of organic content must also be specified.

But the NOP regulations are not applicable for many textile products that use complex inputs, meaning this label is often unachievable. And because of that big shortcoming, the USDA has also ok’d the GOTS certification to be used to label organic textiles in the United States.

When used to certify textiles, this label only looks at the raw agricultural fibre used, such as the cotton seed. The cotton crop is required to be non-GMO and free of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. But it doesn’t certify the ensuing process that leads to the end-garment, or product. Manufacturers can still use dyes or harsh chemicals in the process.

  • Genetically modified seeds are prohibited
  • Does not include processing and manufacturing standards for textile products
  • Not reliable to use in textiles, which is why GOTS is now also used in the US


OEKO-TEX Certifications - product-related labels

OEKO-TEX is a global certification often thought of when it comes to organic cotton. But this certification does not certify nor guarantee the use of organic cotton. And that’s because OEKO-TEX certifies that end products are free from harmful chemicals; it has nothing to do with farming or the raw fibre being used. Its focus is guaranteeing the absence of harmful substances but it isn’t an organic certification per se. 

That said, certified organic products do not guarantee the final absence of harmful substances in the way that OEKO-TEX does. As such, this certification should be considered more of a complement to organic certifications, to ensure the highest quality organic cotton product that you end up wearing. In a way, it’s a supplement that strengthens the stamp of approval.

  • Offers 6 certifications with different requirements and goals
  • Works best for man-made fibres
  • Works best in combination with certified organic textile products
  • Allows the use of GMO seeds, on its own

At POMP, we’re pleased to say we’re certified by two of the best certifications featured in our article: GOTS and OEKO-TEX. For more on organic cotton, take a look at these other blog posts that go into a bit more detail: 

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